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Film aims to show a kinder, gentler IDF
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Film aims to show a kinder, gentler IDF

Union County shuls to host documentary on young soldiers

Following a summer that put an often unflattering spotlight on Israel’s military, a pro-Israel synagogue coalition in Union County will show a film that attempts to humanize the country’s young soldiers.

A screening of Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front, presented by the Israel Support Committee of Central New Jersey, will be held on Sunday, Jan. 11, at 11 a.m., at Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden. After the screening, an Israeli Army veteran, Daniel Slonim, from Long Island, will discuss his own experience as a “lone soldier” five years ago. The film is suitable for viewers age 10 and up.

Beneath the Helmet, issued this past fall, was produced by the nonprofit organization Jerusalem U, which partners with pro-Israel and Jewish organizations.

“There are many lies about IDF soldiers purposely and brutally killing civilians,” said Conrad Nadell, who leads the Israel Support Committee, a coalition of six Union County synagogues. “IDF soldiers need to be seen as they are, young men and women learning to fight…with morals” in a conflict fraught with moral challenges.

Although the film was shot before last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, it was released in October and was greeted as a way to counter unflattering coverage of the war. During the conflict, 66 Israeli soldiers were killed along with more than 2,100 Palestinians, including 500 children.

Most media coverage of the IDF is “overwhelmingly not positive,” the movie’s director, editor, and cowriter, South African-born Wayne Kopping, told The Forward. He set out “to give the audience another perspective,” and an understanding, he said, not just of “the what” but also “the why” of how these young fighters are trained.

The film, Nadell said, shows “soldiers in the IDF fighting terrorists one day, and going home for a weekend the very next day. At an age when American youth are going off to college or deciding a career path, Israelis are confronted with the task of protecting their country against very real existential threats. 

“It is a heavy burden, and these young people responsibly handle it all with competence and dedication.”

Nadell said, “It’s the Israeli youth and volunteers from outside Israel who are keeping the homeland of the Jewish people strong. Jews in America and throughout the world should never take that for granted. The IDF needs to be appreciated and supported.”

Rabbi Joshua Hess, who leads Anshe Chesed, said he was pleased to have the synagogue be among the first to show the documentary in New Jersey. “As a community of committed Jews and religious Zionists, we felt that the opportunity to partner with the Israel Support Committee of Union County was a no-brainer,” he said.

Hess said he welcomed the chance to get a broader sense of army life in Israel. “Though a number of our Anshe Chesed siblings, friends, and relatives have served in the IDF (including two of my younger siblings, and my youngest brother will begin his service this year) and have shared their experiences,” he said, “its always refreshing to hear different perspectives.”

Kopping said that as he and the Jerusalem U team were interviewing potential subjects, the five soldiers focused on in the film “just bubbled to the surface,” distinguished by their personal stories and their ability to convey their feelings.

Members of the Israel Support Committee are Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains, Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah in Clark, Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, Temple Sholom of Scotch Plains, and Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield.

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