Yossi Klein Halevi’s new book, “Like Dreamers,” is about seven of the paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. It is their story and Israel’s story in the years that unfolded. In this excerpt, the first of two being published by the Forward, two of those paratroopers, Hanan Porat and Yoel Bin-Nun, future leaders of the settler movement, are mystfied in the months after the war by a victory that feels divinely ordained. They are both members of the Mercaz, a Jerusalem yeshiva run by Rabbi Yehudah Zvi Kook, known as the epicenter of religious Zionism. In those tumultuous days, Porat’s attention turns to the restoration of the lost village of Kfar Etzion in the southern West Bank. Evacuated in 1936 after the Arab uprising, and then again in 1948, following a massacre of 157 of its residents, the village became a symbol of a return and reclamation of the land.
‘Nu, dear friends,” said Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook, “what should we study now?”
Several dozen students, many sitting on the floor, crowded into the rabbi’s small salon. Tape remained on the windows, a wartime precaution against blasts.
Hanan Porat broke the silence. “Rabbeinu” — Our rabbi and master — he said, “hasn’t the time come to study the laws of the Temple?”
For a religious Jew who prayed three times a day for the Temple to be rebuilt, that was not an unexpected question in the summer of 1967.
“Hanan,” replied the rabbi enigmatically, “we will be learning the laws of war for many years to come.”
“But the Temple Mount is in our hands!” protested Hanan.
“Hanan,” he repeated, “we will be learning the laws of war for many years to come.”
But Hanan is right! thought Yoel. This is the time! Any generation of believing Jews would have known how to read the signs. Redemption was the heart of Judaism: a holy people consecrated to a holy land, at its center a holy city and a holy mountain — a tactile sanctity, because redemption must happen in this world. And now, in six days of re-creation, all that had been broken, had been made whole. Surely even the most stubborn skeptics would now understand that God was in this story.
The Mercaz study hall filled with hundreds of celebrants. Rabbi Zvi Yehudah had summoned an “Assembly of Thanksgiving,” and the yeshiva’s dining room, which had accommodated the crowds for his Independence Day speech, was hardly adequate now. On the dais sat the president of Israel, Zalman Shazar. In the front row sat the novelist and Nobel laureate Shai Agnon.