Last week on Yom Hashoah Harriet and Mark the parents of Michael Levin z”l, the only Israeli/American Chayal Boded (“Lone Soldier”) killed during the Second Lebanon War, visited Auschwitz with the March of the Living. Harriet’s father survived Auschwitz and his stories to his grandson Michael had a profound affect on the youngster. This week, on Yom HaZikaron, together with thousands of other bereaved families, the Levin family will be going to the holy site of Mt. Herzl to honor their only son. He was 22 years old when he fell for our country.
Harriet and Mark, in addition to honoring the last wish of Michael and laying him to eternal rest on Mt. Herzl, decided that rather than build another memorial in a country that sadly has too many memorials for young boys and girls who paid the ultimate price to keep the Zionist dream alive, they were going to celebrate his life and the ideals he lived for by collaborating with a family friend, Sally Mitlas, and creating a wonderful tribute documentary film, “A Hero In Heaven.” Since its premier this film has moved and inspired thousands of people from around the world.
I have personally screened and seen the film countless times, to my Alexander Muss High School in Israel students, to my Birthright groups and American High School students. Every time I watch with tears of sadness and joy. Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) is where Michael fine-tuned his love for Israel. Students at AMHSI use Israel as a living classroom and in the process gain a strong understanding of the concept Yonatan Netanyahu referred to in one of his letters, that the Jewish people are not just the “people of the Book” but also the “people of the Land.” They learn about the young men and women who selflessly devoted their lives to the Jewish State. Michael absorbed the lessons, internalized them, acted on them and became one of them.
It is fascinating just how many lives Michael touched, not only during his all too brief life, but how his life and message continue to resonate. Through the years since 2006, I have never ceased to be surprised by Birthright participants who knew Michael, either from Camp Ramah or from the groups I’ve guided from the Philadelphia area where there were participants who attended Michael’s alma mater, Council Rock High School. All share the memories of a very special individual who was full of joie de vivre and love of Judaism and Israel. One of my IDF participants went to school with Michael’s officer Gilad, who features in the film. She told the group how his officer and fellow soldiers were amazed by Michael’s motivation, constant cheerfulness and love and devotion to our Jewish State.
To be a Chayal Boded (“Lone Soldier”) in a combat unit with all of the stresses, physiological, physical and emotional, serving so far away from family and friends, is not easy. The fact that Michael managed to always stay focused and was eternally optimistic is a sign of the remarkably upbeat, resilient and special person he was. To honor Michael and all the “Lone Soldiers,” his family and many friends, together with other former “lone soldiers” have opened four Lone Soldier Centers in memory of Michael Levin. The centers operate from branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. They provide many useful services to lone soldiers such as helping to finding housing, providing furniture, organizing Shabbat and holiday meals, counseling and most importantly a place to feel at home.
Harriet observed that Michael was doing exactly what he wanted to be doing and he was exactly where he wanted to be. He had no regrets. How many of us can say that? Mark said that Michael strongly believed that the future of the Jewish people would be played out in Israel and he wanted to be a part of it and not an outside observer. Judaism holds that it does not matter how long one lives ones life, but rather what one does with the life that one lives. Michael in his few years allotted to him managed to live a full life packed with happiness and profound meaning. After graduating high school, before his induction to the IDF, Michael attended the NATIV USY year course in Israel. In his NATIV yearbook he wrote:
You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare to risk it all.
The Levin’s odyssey from Auschwitz to Jerusalem is deeply symbolic of just how far we Jews have come from the depths of despair to the heights of independence. This journey was only made possible by the bravery and selflessness of the young men and women, like Michael Levin, who serve and are prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland and the Jewish hope, “to be a free people in our land after two thousand years” (Hatikvah)
In an interview shortly after Michael fell, His mother Harriet said,
I don’t think I’ve ever loved someone like I loved Michael, in spite of his being naughty and stubborn, which can be very frustrating for a mother. I know he was aware of the risks involved in the army service, and he walked in there with open eyes. He knew what he had to do. If he could have left a message, it would be to the soldiers, who should fight harder, make more efforts, and give more than 100 percent. He knew how much I loved him. If I could only say something else to him, I would tell him how proud we are of him.
May Michael’s sacrifice, memory, deeds and life continue to serve as an inspiration and blessing for us. All gave some. Some gave all.