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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A documentary film commemorating the contribution of Jewish servicemen and women of the British Armed Forces to British war efforts was launched at a reception in London last week.
The 30-minute film, commissioned by the Pears Foundation together with the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) and Worthwhile TV, has been created as an educational resource to be distributed free of charge with an education pack to schools, youth movements, community groups and care homes around Britain.
Over 130 people attended the reception at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead, northwest London, to mark the launch. They included Jewish ex-servicemen - many of whom were interviewed for the film - high school students from local schools, and community leaders and representatives.
Jewish War Heroes of the British Armed Forces contains testimonies from former servicemen combined with unique and moving archive footage, including one particular Pessah on a World War I battlefield and the first Jewish service in the liberated Bergen-Belsen.
"The project's origins lay in the observation that there was little to no video testimony from Jewish ex-servicemen and women," Trevor Pears, chairman of the Pears Foundation, said at the launch. "And with the passing years, I felt it was important to collect some of this testimony from individuals who are, if you will forgive the term, part of a living history... our living history.
"During the recording of the testimonies, the filmmaker, Jeremy Wootliff, and I realized that to some extent we were already too late, and that many stories could no longer be told in person. So it seemed that the original project of collecting video testimony would no longer be enough and that a documentary film would help fill the gap."
The film pays tribute to the huge contribution of Jewish servicemen and women from historical battles in the Crimea to wars in Cyprus, Korea, the Falklands, Northern Ireland and modern-day struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We wanted to create a link with the past, to give a more complete picture and assist in honoring and preserving the legacy of the tens of thousands of Jews, who fought bravely alongside their fellow countrymen and the allied forces and who in many cases made the ultimate sacrifice," Pears said.
"Everyone will no doubt have their own thoughts about the film and its messages," Pears said. "For me, one observation is that there was, and thank goodness still is, no contradiction between being Jewish and British and that thousands of Jews have served, been injured and died to protect the values and freedoms we all share and enjoy today."
There are several sayings that warn us of the peril that can befall us if we choose to ignore or forget history, said Pears. "We Jews have made remembrance a central part of our identity, and this story is an integral part," he said.
"I believe our collective memory helps inform us of who we are, our place in this world and helps guide our values and purpose. It has therefore been my family's privilege to assist in the collecting of video testimony and the making of this documentary which we hope will not only help us to remember, but also to inform current and future generations," he added.
Endorsing the film, Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote on the cover of the DVD: "I am proud to honor the extraordinary contribution of Jewish servicemen and women to the security and freedom of Britain. This documentary is a testament to their courage and sacrifice."
"The British Army welcomes soldiers of all faiths, and I am delighted to commend this DVD that highlights the significant contribution made by Jews to the British Armed Forces," added Chief of General Staff, Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt.
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