Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review: Three Weeks and Six Days Memoir

The 28th of Iyar
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 176 pgs.

As Atlanta's Rabbi Emanuel Feldman was winding down his sabbatical year from Congregation Beth Jacob as a lecturer at Israel's Bar-Ilan University at the end of the 1966-1967 academic year, residing in Bnei Brak with his wife and four children, the events that would lead to the Six Days War were being wound up.  The journal he kept of those few weeks, first published in 1968, has been reissued and presents us with a gem of an insight into the events of that time.

This is not a diplomatic history; nor an analysis of the military moves and neither is it a sociological commentary.  It is a daily ordinary record of what Rabbi Feldman's life was.  And because of its simplicity in being a reflection of what an "ordinary citizen" was going through, it is a book that succeeds.

His students leave classes for reserve duty. His brother who has made aliyah attempts to convince him to leave. The conversations in synagogues and the broadcasts from the radio are all laid out as they happened with almost no post-production hindsight. It is as it happened.

Being the result of a Rabbi's pen, the book resonates, of course, with the religiously observant public. Virtually all the personalities whose voices, to varying extents, we hear, are all from the non-secular world.  This is limiting, in one aspect, but is unique in another for as far as I can recollect, the concerns, thoughts and actions of this 15% of Israel's populace at the time is largely missing.  The religious Zionist voice was also censored out of the famous "The Seventh Day" compilation of reflections on the war by the combat soldiers who liberated the Old City and fought the Arab armies on three fronts. And his living in Bnei Brak also allows us a peek at the ultra-Orthodox community.

What I did find interesting was that while Feldman reports the contents of radio broadcasts and what he hears in the streets and the synagogues, his reminisces contain very little of the politics at the time. And to the extent that there is such discussions of politics it appears to be quite shallow.

It is claimed that the National Unity Government coalition formed on June 1, the Thursday before the war, was a result of a groundswell of public opinion increasingly becoming quite unsatisfied with Prime Minister Levy Eshkol's leadership. There is passing mention of the intra-political tensions but I found little in the book to confirm the view that Eshkol yielded to the need to shore up public confidence in a firm way. 

The name Menachem Begin doesn’t appear. Was Feldman unaware of the significance of his cooption to the government and his coming in from the political wilderness? Was it not seen to be important? Was the event not reflected in the news he was hearing? As this is a second edition, he could have added a more complete and reflective chapter to deal with this and other issues.

Many pages are devoted to a tisch on the Shabbat at the Vishnitz Chassidic court as well as elucidations of Zoharic texts supposedly connected to the period than other histories but this certainly reflects the religious audience for whom the book is intended foremost as well as Feldman’s own milieu.

On the other hand, the book serves to inform us what was actually known and discussed by the man-in-the-street. Rumors from the political establishment, the army, international news and more abound in its pages. As such, it serves as a genuine resonator of what was the atmosphere within his sphere of contacts and that is an important contribution to the history of those three weeks and six days.

One linguistic comment: on page 27, I would have employed the word "pharmacy" instead of drugstore which, as an American, I would understand to also include a snack shop, especially malteds. 


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