Commentary Magazine

The Yom Kippur War: Israel and the Jewish People, edited by Moshe Davis

The Yom Kippur War: Israel and the Jewish People.
by Moshe Davis.
Arno Press. 362 pp. $9.00.

The October 1973 war, in addition to effecting a profound change in the relations between Israel and the community of nations, also marked a watershed in relations between Israel and world Jewry. Israel’s near-total isolation, manifest in the refusal of almost every country aside from the United States either to acknowledge Arab aggression or to assist Israel in any way, challenged Jews everywhere to come to the aid of a state whose very existence lay in jeopardy. In the year since the war, Israel’s situation has deteriorated still further, and the question of the proper relation between her and Diaspora Jewry continues to be of the utmost moment.

Yet this is a question that has received relatively little attention. The military and broadly political aspects of the October war have been carefully treated, most notably in the writings of Walter Laqueur and Nadav Safran, but the non-military actors—especially intellectuals and religious leaders—have generally been neglected. The actions and reactions of these figures have now been anthologized by Moshe Davis in The Yom Kippur War: Israel and the Jewish People. Though sketchy and disappointing in parts, the work is an important document and marks a first step toward filling a void in our knowledge of this period.

A product of over two-dozen contributors, The Yom Kippur War contains two quite dissimilar sections: first, a review of the political responses to the war in several countries and in their respective Jewish communities, as well as the responses of Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals; second, a collection of wide-ranging interviews providing personal evaluations of the war’s immediate effects. Almost a third of the volume, predictably, is devoted to America, exploring images of Israel among Americans generally and the internal dynamics of the American Jewish community Here Daniel]. Elazar discusses fundraising, political action, and volunteer activity, while other authors survey the reactions to the war of American intellectuals and of the Reform. Orthodox, and Conservative movements.

Elazar points up the increasing sophistication of American Jews with regard to Israel and to events in the Middle East, and the increased organizational efficiency which in late 1973 enabled the Jewish community to coordinate political and fundraising activities within the Presidents Conference and the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds—a task unthinkable two decades ago. The Yom Kippur War seems to have strengthened bonds among Jewish organizations, and Elazar sees grounds for hope that this newly unified spirit may spread to other spheres.

Mordechai Altshuler’s examinations of Soviet Jewry’s response to the October war divides that community into two groups: Nationalist-Zionist and non-Zionist. The Nationalist-Zionist faction, comprising those Jews who have decided to leave Russia, reacted rapidly and openly to the war, either hastening their departure if they had already received permission to emigrate or announcing their solidarity with the Jewish state in protest demonstrations, letters, and telegrams sent to Israel, and appeals to the central Soviet government for authorization to emigrate. The non-Zionist group, consisting of those Jews intending to remain in Russia, was largely silent during the war, although Altshuler finds that a “surprisingly large number of this community took a specifically Jewish interest” in the war—an interest no doubt heightened in many cases because of the recent arrival in Israel of relatives or friends. Yet despite this concern, Altshuler concludes that few non-Zionists can be expected to reexamine their position regarding emigration as a result of the war.

The second section, assembled under the direction of Geoffrey Wigoder at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry, offers interviews with community leaders and an unsystematic cross-section of world Jewry. Especially engaging are the interviews of postwar immigrants from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which reveal information otherwise unavailable in the West and which should be read in conjunction with Mordechai Altshuler’s analysis to round out the picture of a Jewish community unable to associate freely with Israel.

Although generally solid in presentation, The Yom Kippur War: Israel and the Jewish People is nevertheless marked by several critical flaws. First, the volume lacks thematic cohesion. The country-by-country exploration of reactions to the October war is a valuable beginning, but in the absence of an overarching theme this approach cannot lead to useful suggestions for future action. In its vain attempt to include the responses of every country and every Jewish community, the work forfeits an integrating perspective and a much needed sense of purpose.

Another disappointment is the aimlessness that occasionally creeps into the oral-documentation section. The interviews with volunteers in Israel and recent immigrants from Eastern Europe are interesting and useful in and of themselves, but those with communal leaders, designed for the most part to supplement earlier analyses, are often uninformative, and appear to have been selected with insufficient care.

Finally, the volume fails adequately to consider the future. To be sure, a few practical suggestions do appear in the text. Irwin Cotler, for example, advocates worldwide repetition of the “Winnipeg Experience”—a series of informal discussions between Winnipeg Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors during the war—as a means of garnering support for Israel by presenting convincing explanations of her case. But there is no thorough discussion in The Yom Kippur War of this idea, or of any other such recommendation, nor is there any real assessment of two of the most critical questions facing world Jewry and Israel at this juncture—the firmness of the next generation’s commitment to Israel and the economic and political ability of Israel to weather further crises.

The present generation’s commitment to Israel was in large measure forged by the shock of the Holocaust. For today’s youth, by contrast, Israel is not the realization of an urgent Jewish need, and neither is it the miracle it often has seemed to older Jews. In The Yom Kippur War Daniel Elazar finds that the best guarantee of support for Israel is prior Jewish commitment, and he recommends renewed efforts to improve Jewish education and increase personal contact with Israel. The American Jewish community must quickly implement these ideas—even if they require reallocation of precious resources heretofore designated for Israel—if it is to hope for the continuation of intense Jewish commitment to Israel.

More importantly, world Jewry must realize that it, alone, can no longer provide the economic wherewithal for Israel’s survival. Israel today requires immense assistance from the United States government; the billions of dollars America has provided and will provide in the near future dwarf the contributions of the world Jewish community. Israeli dependence on the good will of the United States will increasingly dictate Israel’s foreign policy, and world Jewry must face this new situation by exerting its full influence to insure continued American support.


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