During Chanukah I hosted an advanced screening of the new film, “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front” produced by Jerusalem U. The film as described on its website (https://www.beneathhelmet.com/)  is a,

Coming of age story that highlights five young high school graduates, who are drafted into the army to defend their country. At the age of 18, away from their houses, family, and friends these young individuals undergo a demanding journey, revealing the core of who they are and who they want to be.”

The audience, consisting of teenagers and adults, was moved to great emotion with laughter and tears mingling together. Seeing the soldiers transforming from high school students to graduates of the elite Tzanchanim (Paratroop) brigade was inspirational and profoundly thought provoking. We accompanied them as they marched, shot, slept in the field, parachuted and finally finished their grueling eight-month basic training. Each soldier exhibited perseverance and bravery. One of the fascinating aspects of the film was that it was unscripted. The soldiers spoke directly from their hearts; they serve in the army for three years (or more) because they truly feel a deep connection to the country, love for the land, and take upon themselves the responsibility of ensuring that the people living in Israel and Jews throughout the world feel secure. Many of the soldiers we met in the film fought in “Operation Protective Edge” this past summer.

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Two deeply symbolic locations are prominent in this film. The first is when the soldiers were sworn in at the Western Wall midway through their basic training. Each received his IDF issued Bible and rifle at Judaism’s holiest site. I vividly remember during my IDF service standing at that same spot and being struck by the feeling that we live in a fortunate generation where Jews can once again defend their land and people and be in charge of their own destiny. The oath states:

I swear and obligate myself on my word of honour to remain loyal to the state of Israel, its laws and its legitimate administration … and to devote all of my strength, and even to sacrifice my life, in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.”

The second site was Mt Herzl, the biggest military cemetery in Israel. The visit to this holy site only serves to emphasise the fact that these bright affable youngsters are giving some of the best years of their life to their land and our people.  As the educational guide of the soldiers, Aviv, stated so eloquently:

Friends stay twenty forever and time marches on. Soldiers that come to the cemetery have to deal with the understanding that they might be the next one who is here.”

The soldiers featured, who represent a cross-section of Israeli society, illustrated the “melting pot” nature of the IDF. Four of them serve in the Paratrooper Brigade & one of them is a NCO in Michvei Alon (training new immigrants).  They are:

  1. Lt. Eden, a 21-year-old officer from a the town of Kfar Vradim in the Western Galilee.
  2.  Eilon, a religious 18-year-old bon vivant Israeli from Ashdod.
  3.  Mekonan, an 18-year-old Ethiopian orphan Chayal Boded (“Lone Soldier”) from a very    financially stressed family
  4. Oren, an 18-year-old Chayal Boded from Switzerland
  5. Coral, a 19 -year-old NCO of new immigrants from the affluent seaside town of Herzeliya Pituach

“At the age of 18, these young people undergo a demanding, inspiring journey, revealing the core of who they are, who they want to be, and why they were chosen to be the protectors of a nation.”

-https://www.beneathhelmet.com/

The film brought a lot of personal memories flooding back from some of the most meaningful years of my life as a Chayal Boded in a combat unit in the IDF. The audience felt a tremendous connection to all of the protagonists for differing reasons. The rope that tied them all together, despite their vastly different backgrounds, was their patriotic and selfless devotion to our Jewish homeland.  From an artistic point of view Beneath the Helmet is slickly produced and edited with excellent cinematography and a score written by Grammy award-winning Miri Ben Ari.
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“Beneath the Helmet” film still

The film will be shown across North American college campuses in the near future in order to connect young Jews all over the world to the their young Israeli brothers and sisters and understand the values that motivate them to serve our country. Another important objective of the film is to help effectively explain the realities facing Israel and show the human face “beneath the helmet.”