The South African Jewish community were strongly Zionistic – they had brought this identification along with their Eastern European baggage and this could be seen in the talks by their rabbis and chairmen.

This is how the chairman, Chairman Chaim Yankelowitz, opened their monthly committee meeting (29.5.1967): ‘We meet this evening with a heavy heart knowing that the destiny of Israel and the Jewish people all over the world is at stake. We hope the Almighty in his wisdom will bring our enemies to their senses and restore peace in the world.”

Mr Yankelowitz

Not twenty years after the establishment of the State and after the destruction of their people during the Holocaust, the anxiety of the community was extreme. The Six Day War, coming so soon after the Holocaust, with its threat to the existence of the State of Israel affected the community deeply. As Jabotinsky had said, “The past lays a railroad track for the future.” Scarred by the recent Holocaust, which had wiped out East European Jewry, the threats to the remnant settled in a now thriving Israel affected them all.

Gamal Nasser, the Egyptian President had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, a casus belli. “We shall on no account allow the Israeli flag to pass through the Gulf of Akaba. The Jews threaten to make war. I reply ‘Welcome. We are ready for war.’” he said on May 22nd.

There was no doubt,” said Abba Eban, “that the howling mobs in Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad were seeing savage visions of murder and booty. Israel for its part, had learned from Jewish history that no outrage against its men, women and children was inconceivable. Many things in Jewish history are too terrible to be believed but nothing in that history is too terrible to have happened. Memories of the European slaughter were taking form and substance in countless Israeli hearts.

Two days later on the 5th June 1967 the Six Day War began. In six days, the Israel Defence Force defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan and conquered the whole of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank of Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Zionist Federation was inundated with young people who rushed to the offices, sitting on their suitcases, waiting to go to Israel as volunteers but as the war only lasted six days, it was nearly over when they arrived. The Magen David Adom set up blood banks to restore to the Western Province Blood Transfusion Services the thousands of pints of blood they so readily flew to Israel immediately on the outbreak of hostilities. There was an outpouring of emotion and support for Israel never exceeded before or since.

The South African Government shared the pro-Israel feelings of most of the Afrikaners and agreed to waive their ban on the transmission of funds to Israel, to the great relief of the Zionist organisations. Emergency campaigns were set up to raise money for Israel and for the wounded soldiers and once again the Weizmann Hall was used for such activities – one of which was an evening of Jewish humour put together by the actor Percy Sieff.

Zmira Cohen remembered attending the special solidarity gathering held in the shul when the Six Day War broke out - she joined the shul when she moved to Sea Point in 1967. A telegram was received from a Capt. J Basson.


Capt. Basson was probably as delighted as the rest of the Jewish community of Cape Town was at the result. When Israel celebrated, they celebrated; when Israel was in difficulty, they suffered and the rabbis’ sermons reflected their concerns.

At the AGM that year chairman Yankelowitz referred to the six historic days and thanked the Almighty for revealing himself to them in a glorious victory and asked the meeting to stand as a mark of respect to the fallen heroes who had given their lives for their country and for the Jewish people all over the world (28.11.1967).