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Israelis You Should Know: Yoske 'Balagan' Schwartz

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Yoske 'Balagan' Schwartz was a member of an elite paratrooper unit in the Israel Defense Forces in 1967 during the Six-Day War. In the days leading up to the outbreak of the war, he was practicing jumping out of a plane with his elite paratroop reserve unit in Rishon LeZion to prepare for a potential battle in the Sinai Desert - and he had no idea he would end up fighting in the battle that led to the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli rule. He shares his account to The Jerusalem Post:

His commander broke the news: Jordan had entered the war and there were 120 people trapped on Mount Scopus (Har Hatzofim) in Jerusalem. Armon Hanatziv (Govrnment House, used as the headquarters for UN observers) had already been captured by the Jordanians, they were told, and there was a danger Jerusalem would fall. ...

When their buses arrived in Jerusalem, it became clear that there really was a war to fight. "It was the night of June 5, and it was very, very dark," says Schwartz. "I remember the ambulances were blazing and bringing people to Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem. We drove in total darkness, and I could only see my friends when something would explode outside. ...

The three paratroop companies were each given quick instructions on the buses. ... "'You, the veterans, will get a special prize,' our commander told us. 'What's the prize?' we asked him. He said, 'You will get to free the Western Wall,'" [Schwartz remembers]. ... As they made their way through [the city], Schwartz and his comrades encountered Jordanian soldiers. "It was so dark outside and we had no idea where we were. The Jordanian soldiers knew the place well, and were some of the best fighters I'd ever seen," he recalls. "...The Jordanians fought to the death. We fought for many hours, and many died." ...

Out of 1,200 paratroop soldiers who began the fight, only 400 were left unscathed, while some were still fighting even though they were badly wounded. Out of the almost 800 soldiers who died fighting for Israel in the Six Day War, 183 died in Jerusalem, and 96 of those were paratroopers. ...

Before they left, Schwartz and his friends gathered bloodied rocks to make a memorial, and afterwards everyone gathered to pray at the Kotel. "I'll never forget it. Forty years have passed and I still haven't forgotten it. I remember suddenly tens of thousands of Jews - young, old, men and women - were all running to the Kotel, crying and hugging us and calling us heroes. We didn't feel like heroes, but we cried and prayed with them. On the one hand, so many of my friends had been killed. But on the other hand, sitting in front of the Kotel, I felt Jerusalem. I always say that I had once thought, 'Who are these people with streimels and payot? I'm not like them, I'm a new Israeli man.' But when I got to the Kotel I understood that I was just a Jew. It was an amazing feeling."

We're so thankful for Yoske Schwartz - and all the members of the IDF - for their bravery and courage in defending the Holy Land!

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