Aitan Melamud (center), now a retired urologist in the Bay Area, with fellow soldiers during the 1973 Yom Kippur War (Photo/Courtesy Aitan Melamud)
Aitan Melamud (center), now a retired urologist in the Bay Area, with fellow soldiers during the 1973 Yom Kippur War (Photo/Courtesy Aitan Melamud)

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War put Israel’s survival at stake. Here’s how this newspaper covered it.

“We heard the first siren during the middle of Musaf service, then we turned the radio on to hear the news. Later, in the middle of N’ilah, another siren. We finished the service in the air raid shelter.”

Those were the words reported by a special correspondent to our newspaper just after Yom Kippur 1973. That was the day that Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel, the start of what is known to Jews as the Yom Kippur War.

“The world appeared shocked and aghast as war engulfed the Middle East at a time when it was least expected — as Israelis marked the holiest day of the Jewish calendar,” read our Page 1 coverage that week.

The Yom Kippur War shaped a generation of Israelis, who faced the sudden threat of destruction from hostile countries around them. But the war, which started so unexpectedly on Jews’ holiest day of the year, also deeply touched American Jews, who followed the news closely through the pages of this and other Jewish newspapers.

Over the few weeks of the war, headlines such as “Israel Forces Outnumbered By Six To One,”We Fight Or We Die” and “They Folded Prayer Shawls To Go To War” were blazoned across each weekly issue.

Emotions ran high from the beginning, as can be seen in an editorial headlined “Again — Jewish Blood” by the paper’s managing editor, Geoffrey Fisher. It ran in the Oct. 12 issue, the first after the war began on Oct. 6.

“1948—1956—1967—and now again on Yom Kippur, 1973 the enemy legions roared down upon Israel seeking to deliver a monstrous blow aimed at sweeping the Israelites from the face of the earth,” he wrote.

While the attack was directed at Israel, it was a blow that could be met by the concerted effort of all Jews.

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“Once again it becomes vital for Jews of the world to assume a heavy portion of the burden of providing the funds essential for Israel to carry on the responsibility of caring for her domestic needs,” he wrote.

Supporting Israel — with goods, with cash — was familiar to Bay Area Jews of that generation, who had been buying Israel bonds and planting trees since the founding of the country.

In October 1973, a scant three days after the war broke out, 2,000 people crammed into Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco to pledge support to Israel. In addition to reporting on that, this paper also listed organizations gathering money and donations for the war effort, including by young people. “Members of Haschachar [Zionist youth group] raised money for the war efforts on the Stonestown Shopping Mall,” the paper noted.

Bay Area Jews called the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco to offer to fight or donate blood, while the Federation called on the Jewish community to “make gifts of truly sacrificial proportions.” For some whose family members had made aliyah and were on the front lines, the war became even closer to home.

It was an emotional and thorough response, but the shock of the war lasted well past that bloody autumn. The news of the war not only bound American and Israeli Jews even more closely, but made American Jews a little more fearful of the future of the State of Israel.

In the issue of Sept. 20, 1974, “The Yom Kippur War And Its Lessons” was a discussion about repercussions, with the hindsight available one year after the momentous attack.

“Suddenly Israelis and Jews throughout the world were made aware that the survival of Israel cannot be taken for granted despite her dramatic victories over her enemies in three previous wars,” we wrote in that editorial. “The Yom Kippur War also underscored the fact that Israel will not survive without the support of world Jewry and particularly the Jews of the North American continent.

“The Yom Kippur message of 5735 is clearly that Jews are one people, with a slim world population of some 13 million, who must be united if the Jewish people are to survive and if Israel, the Jewish homeland, is to survive.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.