Talya’s uncle Sidney Bensaid who fell in the first battle of the Six-Day War

It was hot and dusty in Beersheba in late May, 1967. I had just celebrated my 15th birthday. The impending war was threatening us from all sides.

The seemingly endless, deep rumble woke us up at night. It was the muted echo of massive troops, tanks and vehicles, continuously moving south to the Egyptian border. There was a tremor accompanying that rumble, in the ground and in my young, impressionable heart. I was aware of the smallness of our country and how vulnerable we were against all the neighboring Arab countries that were preparing an offensive against us. These richer, bigger and more powerful countries around us were amassing their troops at our borders. The radio was on constantly at home and everywhere I went. It was informing us that the odds were very much against us. The newscasts were not encouraging at all. I felt fear and insecurity, mixed with determination to do all that I could to help the survival efforts.

The war action felt very close to home. We could see and hear a lot of the preparations. We lived in a neighborhood in Beersheba, called “Shikun Ledougma”, which was built in 1962 for people who worked for the Ministry of Defense. Many of my classmates were children of officers in the Southern Command, including Yeshayahou “Shayke” Gavish, its Commanding General, whose son was my classmate and neighbor. My uncle Sidney Bensaid was a tank commander, stationed on the Sinai border. So many of the people I knew had family members on the front.

From the first day that I became aware of the prewar activities, I started feverishly helping everywhere I could, together with my classmates. We would make Care Packages for soldiers and deliver them in person, standing on the side of the main road where the troops kept flowing southwards. We stood there in the heat of the brutal sun with big smiles and words of encouragement for those young soldiers, who were often not much older than we were. They loved that we were there, always cheering and waving at us. Our big smiles for them concealed that our hearts were already filled with deep sadness, because we knew that many of them would not be coming back.

When I was not preparing or handing out Care Packages to soldiers, I was painting and cleaning shelters. Many of the shelters were neglected and needed sprucing up and preparing for actual use. They also needed clear signs so people could find them easily. It was important and urgent work. We ended up needing them several times, when warning sirens would go off, sometimes in the middle of the night. It brought our neighborhood even closer together. We all huddled in the small spaces together, trying to cheer up the small children by telling them stories and playing games. We even hung drawings on the walls to brighten up the musty cement structures. There were not enough shelters to fit in everybody in the neighborhood, so we also dug trenches. They were about two meters deep and half a meter wide. We filled sand bags and arranged them on the edges of the trenches. We ran there when the sirens sounded, warning us against attacks by air.

Then the actual war started. All we could hear, early the first morning of June 5th, was the sound of fighter jets taking off from the nearby Hatserim Air Force Base. It went on and on and on, as if hundreds of them were taking off. I knew something very big was happening. There were also many more warning sirens going off in Beersheba that day, which added to the ominous feeling. My heart kept beating fast and my stomach was in knots. My mind was in an intense alarm mode. We were smack in the middle of a war. I felt like a sitting duck. Tensions and fear ran very high. The air was heavy and the heat was unbearable. My mom and most of the adults seemed extremely tense.


Talya Dahan (left) with her mother, Tsiona (center) attend the troops’ homecoming. Right: Sidney Bensaid’s temporary grave at Beeri, before being transferred to Mount Hertzl

Later in the day, we found out that the Israeli Air Force had destroyed the bulk of the Egyptian Air Force on the ground, before they could be deployed. That was the mission of the massive number of fighter jets we heard leaving early that morning. The feeling of relief didn’t last long because together with the reports of overwhelming Israeli victories on all fronts came the news of the casualties, affecting so many families that we knew. The cost of winning was very high. Close to 900 Israeli lives were lost and thousands wounded and maimed. We kept watching the endless streams of helicopters delivering the wounded from the Front to Hadassah hospital. We would stand by the window and wonder who it was this time. We knew so many of the wounded.

The first night of the war, my mom woke up screaming. She couldn’t stop crying and was losing her mind with grief. She said she heard her youngest brother Sidney calling out for his mom and she just knew with certainty that he had been killed. Later that day, we found out she was right. My father took me outside to inform me that my favorite uncle had indeed been killed in the first battle of the war, in Um Katef, from a direct hit to his tank. I shook uncontrollably and my knees buckled. He was my youngest uncle, only 23 years old. He was a bon vivant, always smiling and positive. We were very close and I loved him dearly. Our family was overcome with grief. There were too many funerals in the ensuing days. The joy of winning was tainted by the somber awareness of the losses. We went to the parades with a heavy heart.

Life in Israel was changed. It was no longer “Little Eretz Israel” (Eretz Yisrael Haktana). We didn’t feel so vulnerable. We were told that we now had more secure borders. Israel was no longer 10 miles wide at its most highly populated center. David had won against Goliath. We had glimpses of feeling invincible, but we could not forget that “victory” came with a high cost of human lives. For me, it marked the end of my childhood, as well as the end of the childhood of my young country, which had just recently celebrated its 19th birthday and was now changed forever.

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Paul Anderson
This article captures beautifully the angst and trepidation of living in a war situation. Very moving and expertly written.
Karen de la Carriere
This is really good, excellent Talya !
Laura K-B
I am moved and touched beyond belief. War for many of us is something far away - something you read in the papers or hear on the news. But it doesn't touch us day to day. The author has painted a too clear picture of living in the midst of the gripping fear, brutality, tears and horror of war. I envision a teenaged Talya handing out care packages to young soldiers - many of who may not return home. And if they did, certainly not as they once were. My heart goes out for her, and for so many like her who lost their innocence and childhood growing up in such an environment - for the families who lost love ones, and for all those brave souls who lost their lives. Such an excellent, well written memoir.
Annika Persson
Talya: I have said it before, and I say it again: You work magic with your words. My hair was standing up and I had goosebumps on my arms while reading. There is nothing glorious in war, and with your help the reader gets a glimps of the reality behind the figures and the statistics of science and of those in power. For a moment we are thrown into the turmoil of intense feelings of fear and sadness and love, and an opportunity to walk in your shoes for a few minutes. Thank you!! <3
Larry Ehrlich
A very moving account, beautifully and hauntingly written.
Very well written! I can't imagine the horrors of war and what it must have been like as a child to have to experience it. But I'm so glad you made it??
David Neace
Wonderfully written article.
Dennis Erlich
Your writing is so very personal, Tanya. I was filled with emotion reading it and imagining how it would shape a young girl's sense of the world. Keep writing! You are very multi-talented girl.
Louis Degni
The lessons of war through the eyes of a 15 year old girl are painful to read about. In a few short days innocence was gone and so was a beloved family member. Always in war the question is why. Why did it have to come to this? I could feel your emotion as I read through this article. The anxiety, the doubt, the fear and then the final pain. The article is very touching indeed. So much for a young person to endure I am sorry that you passed to adulthood in this way Talya.
Great article Talya. A sad account of the loss of your favourite uncle. Ive never experienced war as directly as you. It must have been horrific and terrifying
John Andreou
This is a lady I would love to meet one day. I love the heart of this lady - she is one of the sweetest people I know and she always looks first for the good in people instead of looking to find fault. She is a lady who would rather build people up than put them down. You are a precious friend dear Talya and I want to be the first to read your book. May the |Lord God of Israel bless you each and every day xxx
Theresa Laster
What a remarkable first hand account of survival in the early days of Israel. Tayla's mesmerizing memoir details the humanity as well as the inhumanity behind all war; few are untouched by loss of friends and family. Since I'm a pacifist, I always wonder about the people who make the decisions to engage in these kinds of conflicts. Who benefits? Certainly not the wounded, maimed and dead soldiers and their families. There must be another way.
Joseph M. Faria
Dear Talya, Your story is very moving. I believe children are the innocent victims of war. I'm sorry the end of your childhood is marked by loss of loved ones. I'm glad you mention your Country's childhood ended in such a positive way. Take pride with your sacrifice and that of the many of that era, future generations of Israel live a better life.
Mike Horton
Very well written chapter of a story that I wish was fiction. It was not however snd knowing that, I could feel the fear of what it must have been like to be a child in a very adult situation! Danger all around. It's almost unthinkable, but the author had no choice but to not only think about it but to do all she could do to just survive! I hung on every word and can't wait to read the next segment of this fascinating and frightening story that is not just a story, but real life!
Patricia Greiner
Impeccable and very well written, my heart touched by the feeling of a young person's grief and agony because of and due to warring in one's own backyard! I lost my Dad in WW II, he easc25, I was 14 mos.old, my Mama 23.
Gaylord Millentree
Such an interesting read, a personal account from someone who you know that was there in the conflicts of war. A reflection of the behind the scenes heroic of those without weapons but mountains of support and heart that was just as important in the success of their country efforts. a compelling story of bravery and endurance that rates praise and significance. Definitely an outystanding read
heiderbou hasegawa
Such an in depth, heartfelt glimpse into the world that we only hear about on the news. This is written with such clarity and vividness that it makes me feel I am there. Suddenly the struggle and fear is real and no longer just words in the newspaper or on the internet. It's no longer a distant occurrence happening to "someone"...that someone now has a face . My deepest sympathy for your loss, Talya, and for the many others who have lost someone in the ongoing fighting. This is akin the The Dairy of Anne Frank, it's written very well and touches the soul.
Colin Higgins
Beautifully written. The things you have lived through. And poor Sidney ?
Beautifully written Talya, such terrors for children to have witnessed.. very emotive xx
The air was thick and the heat unbearable what a compelling read your article is I feel like I am right there with you my dear friend xxx
Katherine Reilly
I always enjoy the writings of Talya Dahan Dunleavy. Her intimate first-person accounts illuminate times little discussed. I feel that I am being given a window to subjects about which I previously knew nothing. I can feel the heat and smell the dust. My heart beats for the sturdy, resilient folk who populate her stories.
Igor Boulatnikov
I was born two months later. That's why I knew nothing about this conflict. Talya thank you so much for this article. So sorry for your uncle... You're so talented! Thank you so much for being my second Mom. May God bless you!!!
Bernadette Clark
This is so beautifully and historically written. It is so important to the world we live in that we never forget the price paid for emancipation. This article breathes life and takes the reader into this young woman's heart. Thank you for sharing. Bernadette Renee
Estelle Marie Baines
That was the most fascinating account! I had never heard about the Six Day War from someone who had been there, although my grandparents lived through WWII, and just barely, WWI. What a difficult time for you all! So much sadness, and yet also, pride in your country for achieving the impossible and staving off a certain defeat. I can still remember my father telling me about the Six Day War in our kitchen in Higgins, and he saw it as the hand of God. I don't know about all that sort of thing, but I knew I was hearing the tale of a miracle, of sorts. Thank you so much for such an interesting read. I am so terribly sorry about your uncle, and all the other people you lost. I fancy his mother truly was there for him, in some way, in that last moment. He certainly reached his sister, your mother. I hope his travels are happy now, wherever he is.
Dinu Stefan
An emotional story. I like the way you wrote the article. You should write a book, an autobiography, or something like that .
A very touching true story, of one of the bravest women I know. What Talya has been through has made her strong. I have enjoyed the privilege of reading many of Talya's stories, and they always keep me intrigued, and, in the end, just blown away!!! I am honoured to have a friend in her for life.
Ziv Knoll
Wonderful and very emotional article. Well written from the heart of someone who lived this glorious and tragical chapter a few miles away from the frontline, caring for all these young people risking their lives to protect their families, their country. Those who gave their lives for our freedom and peace will never be forgotten.
Beautifully well-written. Such a young person to experience such a terrible reality. Kol hakavod for your ability to share your experience with others.
Avery gripping account, told from the perspective of a young girl, imparts a real sense of fear and dread of coming events. I loved that the girl wanted to try and help in any way possible, showing the capacity of a people facing a very real prospect of disaster to pull together and help each other. A heartfelt, powerful account of what must have been a terrifying time in her young life. Excellent read.
Wow! Thank you for telling the story. Beautifully written and very touching
Synthia Fagen
Thank you, Talya, for your account of Israel's 6 Day War. I cannot imagine how I would feel as a child. You do a good job explaining how you felt. I appreciate how much you helped while smiling. I'm sure many others did as well.
David Finan
A well written piece from an Israeli viewpoint and given the situation at the time.
Sylvia Fisk
Beautiful story of hope and faith in the goodness of hearts and humanity in times of great distress and trial. Thank you for sharing, Talya
What an incredible story you lived to tell. This is such an eye-opener for someone like me, who's lived a sheltered life in the U.S. Bless you and your family and the people of Israel.
Tony Dunleavy
Wow! This article really moved me and gave me great insight into what happened in the 6 days war. Talya was right there in the middle of it. She has conveyed the sense of what people knew and felt, their fears and concerns during that trying time. Thank you Talya.

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About the author

Talya Dahan Dunleavy

Talya Dahan Dunleavy was the first daughter born in Kibbutz Reim, in 1952. Her cousin Noam Bensaid, Alexis son, was the first son of Kibbutz Reim. In 1957 They moved to Mitspe Ramon with a group of...

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