Recalling war and peace, a Jerusalemite remembers the city’s reunification

Dov Chaikin (Photo: N. J. Schiavi)

It was not even 20 years since the establishment of the State of Israel when a sense of gloom blanketed the fledgling nation.

“Egypt, Jordan and Syria were threatening to demolish us,” Dov Chaikin, 91, recalled. “Population wise they numbered in the millions.”

In June 1967, Israel was still small with approximately 2.8 million residents and a narrow geographical swath of land. Yet the country was staring down the barrel of a gun as hostile armies threatened and swarmed around it.

“There was a feeling of fear,” Chaikin told KNI, recalling the war — the shortest in the nation’s history — that forever altered its maps.

“The first night of the Six-Day War, it was 3 a.m. (then-IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak) Rabin and Airforce commander Mordechai Hod got on the radio and announced the destruction of enemy planes on the ground. Just a few hours before, I heard tanks rumbling through the streets and planes overheard. I said to the children, ‘Those planes are ours and I sense a great victory.’” This was a decade before Chaikin gave his life to Yeshua.

Sure enough, Israel’s victory was swift and decisive, capturing the Sinai, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jerusalem ’s Old City and the Golan Heights, the status of some of these still a major point of contention in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

On the third day of fighting, the highlight of the Six-Day War occurred as paratroopers broke though Saint Stephen’s Gate. Commander Mordechai “Motta” Gur declared his now famous line: “Har Habayit beyadainu” (The Temple Mount is in our hands).

All of Israel rejoiced.

But for Chaikin, redemption came the day before.

“For me the highlight was one day earlier when I heard that the road to Mount Scopus was open,” he said.

Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University had been an Israeli enclave on Mount Scopus in enemy territory since 1948. It was guarded, but Israelis had no access to the installations there.

Chaikin, who had worked at the hospital in 1948 before the War of Independence, witnessed one of the worst massacres in Israel’s history on April 13, 1948: the attack on the Hadassah Hospital convoy that left 79 people dead. The hospital was connected to Jerusalem via a road that wound through an Arab neighborhood. An Arab mob ambushed the convoy on its way to the hospital and after several hours, 78 Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members and Haganah fighters were killed. Also killed in the attack was a close friend of Chaikin’s from the Jewish brigade; Avraham [Albert] Sofer was an Iraqi Jew. He was the first of his family to immigrate having traversed the Syrian desert to get to the Promised Land.

“There was nothing we could do,” Dov remembered.

Because of the tense situation at the time, some people tended to stay a night or two on the Mount. Chaikin was at the hospital planning to spend the Sabbath and then return to Jerusalem on Sunday’s convoy.

“I last went up to the Mount on April 11, 1948 intending to stay just for Shabbat. I came back May 9,” he said.

“Having witnessed the massacre, it meant so much to me when Israeli troops liberated the road to Scopus in 1967.” The Mount has remained fully under Israeli control since then.

The reunification of Jerusalem brought a sense of euphoria.

“It meant a lot to me because I had, before 1948, visited the Old City,” he said. After the Six-Day War, Chaikin visited the Garden Tomb for the first time. “I was rather impressed with the warden’s Hebrew – it was Jan Willem Vanderhoven.”

“(The reunification of the city) was a spiritual breakthrough,” Chaikin said, recalling other movements that were sparked at the time such as the Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church. “Things definitely happened in the Spirit.”

In 1976 Chaikin began attending the Narkis Street congregation with Tehilah, whom he had recently met and would eventually marry. The Bible teaching was in English, but was from the Tanach. The teacher consistently interrupted his own teaching to confirm with Chaikin, a fluent Hebrew-speaker, if the English translation was correctly rendered. It was this that sparked in him a need to reread the Tanach for himself.

“It was a six month walk to Emmaus for me,” Chaikin said. In April 1977, he suddenly found himself standing during a Sunday night chapel meeting. “I announced my conviction that I had no option but to accept Yeshua as Messiah, Savior and Lord. I asked to be baptized. I had a specific date: May 23, 1977 — Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks) would be the most appropriate day for my baptism.”

Born in London in 1926, he came to the land at 2 years old and was raised in a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) household.

“I contend that what I imbibed in this home had a lot to do with my eventually coming to faith in Yeshua,” he said.

In an interview with KNI, the nonagenarian shared his vast memories of growing up in the Holy Land.

When he was 16, Chaikin claimed he was 18 and joined the British army. Despite never receiving a formal education, between 1968 and 1978, Chaikin served as the head of the English division of the government press office – a post requiring an MA degree.

With an enviable penchant to remember dates and statistics, Chaikin continues to employ his ever-sharp mind as a fact checker, text consultant and writer, mainly for Israel Today.

(He is also well known to this extremely grateful reporter as one of the most severe and accurate editors her articles have ever passed through.)