Stephen Gold was 20 years old when the Six Day War broke. He left his job to fly to Israel as a volunteeer. This is his story
I was 20 in 1967. In early May we began to realise a tense situation was taking place on all borders surrounding Israel.
By May 16th Nasser’s troops were massing in the Sinai Peninsular and on 19th, as he expelled the UN troops from the Suez Canal and Sinai, the situation was worsening. On 22nd May, Nasser blocked the Tiran Straits to stop shipping getting in and out of Eilat and within 48 hours of that happening, it seemed as though every synagogue in the UK had every seat taken and people were standing in the aisles. Every pulpit was occupied by a speaker from Israel or the Israeli Embassy telling us about the latest situation and preparing everyone for the eventual war.
At these meetings many millions of pounds were pledged for JNF, JIA, Magen David Adom etc. Queues formed in banqueting halls and centres all over London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow etc for volunteers to give many thousands of pints of blood to send to Israel. We were advised mass graves were being dug in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The atmosphere was tense and there is no doubt we were all scared.
I was very much involved in the JNF charity and social scene in those days and my personal thoughts made me realise I had to do something rather extreme. On Thursday, May 23rd , during my work lunch hour, I walked down Regent Street into Rex House – JNF’ head office – and discovered that Shmoel Lewinsohn whom I knew, was in charge of the Jewish Agency office and he was preparing a list of volunteers prepared to fly off to Israel at a moment’s notice. I got my name on that list.
However, as I was under 21, I had to have my mother’s authorisation. I knew she would refuse but she told me that although she couldn’t bring herself to sign the form, she was very proud of me and wouldn’t be at all surprised if I forged her signature – which I did in front of her. The next morning I gave my notice in at work to leave immediately and then I went back to Rex House as a volunteer helping to organise fundraising, counting donations etc for about 10 days until Sunday evening I received a call from El Al with the request to be at Heathrow Airport the next morning, Monday June 5th.
In the car on the way to the airport, the BBC announced war had started and on arrival at the airport we were sent home again as no flights to Israel were taking off. I felt very disappointed but perhaps deep down a little relieved. For the next six days, the entire UK Jewish population were glued to their radios and TVs and became experts in army and airforce warfare. Then late Saturday night on June 10th, just after the ceasefire was announced, El Al called again and the following morning I was on the first flight out to Israel. Imagine no security at Ben Gurion Airport (Lod Airport in those days) as the airport was a ghost town and not a soul to be seen. The entire planeload of UK volunteers spent that first night in a transit camp in an old age home in Herzlia called Beit Shereen.
The next morning we were placed in kibbutzim all over the country and I spent the next four months at Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan. Every few minutes planes were landing with thousands of volunteers pouring in from all over the world to work on kibbutzim taking the place of the men and women who who had been conscripted into the Israel Defence Forces.
For a young commercial estate agent, I found work on the kibbutz to be extremely hard and monotonous. We worked Sunday to Friday from 4 am to 12 noon with Shabbat and one day a month off. I spent my time working in the kerem picking grapes, in the kibbutz factory making plastic coated drainpipes and doing very heavy work in the banana plantations but for me, sitting on platforms on the top of ladders up in the trees picking apricots and olives was the best as you could have a little shluf without being spotted!
Many of us worked extra hours washing up in the kitchens for over 400 residents to enable us to take extra time off to see life in either Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa. There were some 40 volunteers on my kibbutz from UK, South Africa, USA and France and the kibbutzniks took us all on regular trips – the first being the day after we arrived, when we were crammed onto a trailer behind a tractor and taken up the adjoining Golan Heights. We weren’t allowed off the trailer as there were still white markings on either side of the roadways indicating the area had not yet been cleared of land mines.
The experiences were truly amazing giving me and so many others a strong feeling and love of Israel. Many stayed on to make Israel their home while others came back years later.