It wasn’t easy for three Israeli septuagenarians to embark on a 16-day, seven-city tour of America.
But a photograph taken 50 years ago transformed the former paratroopers into proud icons for the Six-Day War and Jerusalem’s reunification. The men in David Rubinger’s photo — Tzion Karasenti, Dr. Yitzhak Yifat and Chaim Oshri — flew halfway around the world on the 50th anniversary of the historic event with a message for America’s Jewish communities.
On Sunday, the three were guests at Chabad Lubavitch of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, where 250 people came to hear their memories of the war and how they became the faces of the Israeli conquest of the Western Wall.
“People were spellbound, on the edge of their seat hearing this description of what they had to do,” said Ari Dallas, executive director of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ Mid-Atlantic chapter. “They were just sitting there with eyes agape and listening so intently.” The FIDF sponsored the tour.
Yifat presented his story in English, Dallas said, while Oshri and Karasenti’s delivered their accounts in Hebrew with an interpreter turning his words into English.
“They know the enormity of what they fought to preserve, and you feel that in their words,” Dallas said. “It’s that internal, intense emotion. We see [the war] as a piece of history. They saw it as a piece of real life.”
“What stood out to me really was their passion in reliving the moment and from all three of them really, their passion for the historical significance of the moment,” said Rabbi Mendel Deitsch, of Chabad Lubavitch of Northern Virginia. “They seemed to be very aware of that moment and what was captured in that picture, not just for them, but for Jewish people.”
At the same time, Dallas said, the paratroopers were humble about their role in Israel’s triumph 50 years ago.
“They were three guys in the right place at the right time, and so they really didn’t want to take on the role of hero,” he said. “But they appreciate deeply and personally what it meant for the Wall to be back in Jewish hands as a place for all to worship freely.”
“They weren’t expecting to capture the Western Wall or the Old City,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) in Washington, who hosted the Israelis and 200 other guests on Shabbat.
The soldiers said that the original mission included only capturing Ammunition Hill, a Jordanian military post in East Jerusalem, but not the Temple Mount, Shemtov said, adding,
“They were reassigned at the last minute, so we see how everybody’s plans can get rearranged by God at the very last minute.”
Erica Rimlinger, an area writer, contributed to this article.