Two weeks after Sam “Mula” Goldman was discharged from active duty military service in May 1967, war broke out in between Israel and its neighbors. Around him, Tel Aviv began to empty out as the fighting-age men went to war.
“The way you mobilize at that time was you just go from door to door, people go get people,” he said in a recent interview.
But because he had just left active service and wasn’t yet on the roster of reservists, nobody came to get him. So, unbidden, Goldman turned up to his unit. It was never a question of whether he should report for duty.
“When there is a war, you go fight the war,” he said, speaking on the phone from Texas.
Goldman now works in construction, commuting between Tarzana and Dallas. His three sons, all of whom live in the United States, also were Israel Defense Forces soldiers, including one, Erez, the Los Angeles regional director of the Israeli American Council, who was a paratrooper like his father.
Fighting in 1967 was something like a rite of passage for many members of Goldman’s generation. In Israel, war is a fact of life, he said.
“It’s part of growing up,” he said. “It’s part of the culture. … But we don’t make a big deal out of it. You’re not unique. Many people go through the same thing, you know what I’m saying? You don’t brag about being in the army.”
When Goldman reported for duty, the army found a job for him, commissioning him to organize a unit that would drop behind enemy lines with mortar equipment.
“We were trained only a few days,” he said. “I never dealt with that stuff before.”
The plan was to jump out of planes into the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Desert. But on the way to the plane, plans changed and the mission was canceled. Instead, Goldman was sent to the Sinai to fight alongside regular infantry. Then, plans changed again, and Goldman was moved to the Golan Heights.
“All the way across the country,” he said. “And then everything was so quick — in six days it was over, man.”
For the remainder for the war — three or four days — Goldman fought a literal uphill battle in the Golan, exchanging mortar fire with Syrian forces until the Israelis gained the higher ground.
The experience was not without its frightening moments, but actual battle left no room for the emotion, he said. “You’re afraid on the way going there, on the way back maybe. While you’re doing it, eh — no time to be afraid.”
Instead, Goldman’s narrative betrays a tone of absolute necessity, where failure was simply out of the question.
“In Israel, you can’t even think about losing,” he said. “You gotta win. Losing is not an option. … If Israel lost the Six-Day War, there wouldn’t be Israel anymore.”
As the child of Holocaust survivors, the thought of annihilation was not far from Goldman’s mind. Of his mother’s 12 siblings, only four survived World War II. Goldman himself was born in 1946 in the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen before his parents took him to Israel two years later.
“We grew up with the slogan, ‘Never again,’ ” he said. “So, of course, it’s in the background.”
But after the war, any fear evaporated, replaced almost overnight by jubilation.
“We lived for a little while in a euphoria. We the garesh [apostrophe],” he said, a reference to the Jewish state’s diminutive size. “The little Israel can do what nobody can do.”
Shortly after the war, Goldman moved to Pennsylvania to attend Philadelphia University, but Israel was never far from his heart. When war broke out again in 1973, he decided to join the fray. By his telling, Israeli expatriates were fighting for seats on flights to Tel Aviv.
“Of course, you don’t have to go,” he said, “but I came. I wasn’t by myself. A lot of people did it.”
Why join a war when you’re tens of thousands of miles away with no specific obligation to fight?
“Because that’s your country,” Goldman said. “What do you mean? It’s your country, and if not you, who will?” n