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My Baby and the Six-Day War: A Double 50th Anniversary

My Baby and the Six-Day War: A Double 50th Anniversary

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Nissel at 9 months old
Nissel at 9 months old

It was June 1967, exactly 50 years ago, and I was about to give birth.

We lived in France at the time on our yeshivah campus, where my husband was director. Since our community was situated in the midst of an isolated forest—and because I had experienced some complications—we had booked a place to give birth in a large Paris hospital about 70 kilometers away by car.

What I didn’t know then was that this date would make such a tremendous historical impact—not only on my family, but on all of Israel. Israel was in the midst of a frightening war It was to be a day of miracles: a personal miracle for me and my daughter, and a national miracle for our people.

Israel was in the midst of a frightening war, and all Jews throughout the Diaspora were roused to pray earnestly for Divine help. Our enemies were united for what they supposed was a certain victory against the tiny 19-year-old nation, the miniscule lamb surrounded by a pack of wolves.

For once, everyone wanted to know the latest updates. There were no newspapers available in the depths of the countryside; no member of the yeshivah even possessed a radio.

With one exception: the non-Jewish worker of the yeshivah printing press. Ironically, his real name was Haman (the same unusual name that belonged to the wicked villain of the Purim story), and he was the only one on the premises known to possess a radio. Suddenly, he found himself very popular, as his work domain became invaded by various staff members anxious to hear the international news.

On the morning of June 6, I began to experience intimations that the newest addition to our family would arrive in the very near future. As my previous children, however, had all taken a few days to actually make their appearance, I judged that there was still plenty of time before I needed to start for the hospital. Yet as the afternoon progressed, I began to wonder if this latest baby was different from her siblings in temperament and perhaps planning to make her debut as early as that night.

After lunch, I asked my husband if he could take a break and drive me to Paris.

“Sure,” he replied. “I could do that, if you really want to leave so early. I’ll just pop in to Haman to hear the latest war news of Israel. Then I’ll borrow a car from someone. In the meantime, you can give all the necessary instructions to your mother about the children.”

These things would take some time, I realized. And we would have to add on the time of the journey, probably an hour-and-a-half to two hours, depending on traffic.

As my husband disappeared in the direction of the printing press, I began to feel more than a little uneasy, both physically and mentally. So when I observed my mother-in-law walking on the communal grounds, something made me extend an unusual invitation from a daughter-in-law due to give birth. “We are going to Paris for a checkup,” I informed her. “Do you want to come with us?” Graciously, she accepted the invitation.

An hour later, all three of us ensconced in the car, we set off on the road to Paris.

Mémé (French for “Grandma”) asked my husband, Binyomin: “So what’s happening In Israel?” Mother and son engaged in a technical discussion about the progress of the war in Israel. The fighting was fierce. We were praying for a miracle. Would Israel remain standing among her manifold enemies? The battlefront was approaching Jerusalem itself, which, at that time, was divided between Israel and Jordan by a strict boundary.

Our Yeshiva in the forest
Our Yeshiva in the forest

I was completely unable to follow them. By now, I realized that the baby would probably arrive imminently. We had started out rather late—apparently too late to arrive at the hospital in time.

I became silent while the other two became more animated in their discussion. Suddenly, I decided to interrupt them.

“Binyomin,” I began in as calm a voice as I could muster, “could we possibly stop at the nearest private clinic instead of going all the way to Paris?”

He was sure I was kidding. Not so Mémé. She immediately understood the significance of my request.

“Binyomin,” she said softly, taking care not to startle the driver. “Leah says she needs the nearest clinic.”

Events moved swiftly after that. We knew of no clinic in the vicinity. My energetic little one decided that she would not wait a moment longer and entered this world in the back of the car, aided only by her loving though untrained grandmother, who was so fortuitously present for the occasion.

Thank G‑d, there were no complications, though I did have to coach Mémé to remove the caul (membrane)We had started out rather late—apparently too late to arrive at the hospital in time from the baby’s face so that she could draw her first breath and utter her first gentle cry.

Then we remembered that we had friends in the area, who informed us that there was indeed a clinic a few miles away. The chief doctor there allowed mother and baby shelter within its portals, even though we had not reserved a placeproceedings usually obligatory several months in advance.

G‑d had shown us infinite mercy. Not only did He bring my baby into the world safely in spite of the unusual location, but He had also even provided me with an unplanned “midwife” to join us in the car and guided us to an unknown clinic not so far away.

The following day, I learned the full impact of this auspicious time of miracles. The gentile midwife of the clinic approached my bed and whispered in my ear: “Your people have taken Jerusalem! They have reclaimed the Wailing Wall! They are making fast advances.”

My joy was complete. Thus, I celebrated this heavenly miracle for the Jewish people together with my personal miracle of the precious baby girl in my arms. We named her Nissel, an appropriate name for a child born at a time of nissim—of miracles.

Esther Leah Avner is a writer and Torah lecturer living in Jerusalem. She is the author of her memoir: Learn, Live, Teach, the Story of a Life.
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Lilian Chile June 7, 2017

What a lovely story Leah! Thanks for sharing this to remind us to see once more, that our Creator was and is always coordinating every single minute and situation in your and everybody's lives.... a big hug for you, your daughter Nissel and all your love ones!!! Reply

S United Kingdom May 24, 2017

A really lovely reminiscence of your life and a truly wonderful day for you and your family. Thank you, for the blessing of sharing this. Reply

jim dallas May 23, 2017

i am all for nissim, thank you and the army and the people round about! Reply

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