A personal recollection from Israel’s victorious war 56 years ago
By Lennie Lurie
Approaching June 5, the anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War, I’m always reminded of a miracle – a personal miracle – that occurred within the much larger miracle of securing the Jewish homeland.
This June 5, 2023, will be no different.
One is sometimes inclined to deride and even scorn unusual events which bear the title of ‘miracles’. The Bible is full of such miracles which are difficult to explain and are usually accepted with an element of religious faith.
I would like to share with you a real “miracle” which I experienced exactly 56 years ago. I ascribe the circumstances of this amazing event as being miraculous because they exceed the realms of sheer coincidence. The ramifications of this miracle brought me indescribable joy under conditions which nobody could have ever foreseen.
In May 1967, Jews the world over followed the events developing in the Middle East most anxiously. The United Nation forces in the Gaza Strip were expelled by the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdul Nasser. The strategic Straits of Tiran, providing shipping access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat, had been blockaded by Egyptian war ships and menacing cannons placed on Tiran Island.
Egypt and Syria had united to form a formidable military threat. It was obvious to me that the Western world was gutless to do anything to diminish this dangerous situation and that a war involving Israel was inevitable.
At that time I was working with my late father in his clothing factory in Cape Town. My younger brother, Bernie, had recently flown to Morocco and his next destination was Madrid, Spain, to commence an extensive tour of Europe.
After my matriculation in 1958, I volunteered to serve in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces); and had completed my training as a paratrooper 15 months later. I recall our jumps were made from the dangerous height of about 300 meters to ensure a speedy descent and a greater concentration of landed forces. No other parachuting military unit in the world jumps from such a relatively low height. Needless to say, we had our share of paratroopers with broken legs. As the Yankees say: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs!”
Although now some seven years later, I felt strongly back in South Africa that my duty in 1967 was to be with my fellow soldiers in Israel, being convinced that a war was going to break out and I did not want to just read about it!
At that critical time, all able bodied Israeli men were being called into the army and there was a desperate shortage of man-power to work in the agricultural fields of farms and kibbutzim. The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) began calling for young South African volunteers to go to Israel and work in the fields, replacing the mobilized man-power. I made immediate contact with the SAZF but insisted that as a former Israeli soldier, I wanted to join my unit, the 50th Paratrooper Battalion. Permission was promptly granted: I could fly together with the other volunteers to Israel but on landing, instead of being taken to some kibbutz, I could break away and try to get into army uniform.
My parents realized that nothing would deter me from rejoining my army unit and I left with their blessings… and prayers! My last undertaking before leaving home was to write a brief letter to Bernie, explaining to him that I believed that war in Israel was just a matter of time and that I had to be there with my fellow Israeli soldiers. I ended it with the hope that our paths might meet again under happier circumstances.
Our plane landed in Israel on Sunday afternoon, 4 June 1967. The Six Day War broke out the following morning. The war ended on the Saturday which found me at some kibbutz outpost in the very north of Israel overlooking the Golan Heights, which the IDF had just conquered. I won’t describe all my desperate endeavors to locate my unit, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Eventually I arrived at Kibbutz Yizre’el, in the north, near the town of Afula, where I knew a number of South African kibbutz members.
I began to work in the agricultural fields together with other volunteers who were arriving daily from overseas. Almost every night I would be woken up to help new volunteers get off the buses and trucks with their baggage. One evening, after helping a new volunteer from Australia to get off the truck, he stared at me somewhat strangely and asked:
“Are you South Africa?”
Replying in the affirmative, I hardly considered his question unusual as there were many South African members on Kibbutz Yizre’el. However, I was quite taken aback when he enquired if my name was Lennie! Again answering in the affirmative, he could have flawed me when he next said:
“Your brother Bernie is in Israel!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Bernie was in Israel!
How did this stranger even know who I was? In a state of near shock, I asked him to explain to me the background to his astounding revelation.
“I was amongst a group of Australian volunteers,” he began. “We departed from Sydney and flew to Rome to make a connection to Israel. On the flight to Israel, I began to talk to a young guy seated next to me. He told me that his name was Bernie and that he was from South Africa. He then started speaking about his brother, Lennie, who he said had left for Israel before the war started and that he had planned to join his army unit. This fellow had no idea where his brother was and was most concerned about him. He had broken off his European trip in order to find his brother and when we landed in Israel, this Bernie said to me: “If you see a man with a chin beard, ask him if he is a South African. If he says ‘yes!’, then ask him if his name is Lennie. If he says ‘yes!’ again, tell him that his brother Bernie is in Israel”.”
I firmly believe that despite the enormity of war the Almighty was watching over us and wanted to unite my brother and me.
Now that I knew Bernie was in Israel:
“How would I find him?”
I decided my best bet was to call Telfed – the office of the South African Zionist Federation in Tel Aviv. Afterall, they look after the interests of South Africans living in Israel and keep track of the movements of visiting South Africans, who in those days, usually made a point of visiting the Telfed office for a coffee, chat and to catch up on news. It was the No 1 meeting place for South Africans, particularly in 1967.
“Maybe Bernie would have contacted the ‘Fed’ at some time after his arrival.” I thought.
So, very early the next morning I phoned the Fed. One of the secretaries, Myra, whom I knew from my army days, answered the call. I had barely stated my name when she interrupted me to say: “Your brother, Bernie, is standing next to me. Do you want to speak to him?”
Bernie had hardly asked, “Len, is that you?” when I found the strength to utter only two words to him:
Some three hours later we reunited in the Fed offices. People could only stare in bewilderment as we embraced each other in uninhibited rapture, tears of joy streaming down our cheeks. I returned with ‘bro’ Berns’ to Kibbutz Yizre’el where we worked for a few weeks. We then left the kibbutz and hitchhiked together to the Golan Heights and then south to Eilat, sharing with Israelis the wonders of a victorious Israel with a united Jerusalem.
I defy you to convince me that our reunion was not a miraculous event!
I felt the Almighty had rewarded us – two brothers – for our volunteering efforts to aid Israel in its hour of need. He brought us together and replaced anxiety and concern with fraternal elation and happiness.
The Six Day War 56 years ago, united Israel’s eternal capital Jerusalem; it also united two brothers from South Africa in Israel.
I made Aliyah in February 1970 and Israel has been my home ever since, raising five children and being blessed with five grandchildren.
About the writer:
A B.Sc. graduate in Economics and Geology from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Lennie may be the only volunteer from abroad who was granted permission to leave his group on kibbutz during the 1967 Six Day War to rejoin his paratroop brigade that he had served with years before following his matriculation in Cape Town. In Israel, Lennie has worked as an Export Manager for some of the country’s major food manufacturers and chemical companies as well as an independent consultant in Export Marketing guiding many small Israeli businesses to sell their products and services in the world-wide market. As a result of a work accident in 1995, Lennie made a career change and became an independent English teacher working mainly with hi-tech companies and associated with universities and colleges in the north of Israel.
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