A female soldier has mud applied to her face for camouflage in this photo from an IDF Instructors course in 2006..
(photo credit: IDF FLICKR)
It’s been two years since I started working on our new documentary, Beneath the Helmet, about the real lives and experiences of young Israeli soldiers. During that time, I spent a lot of time with the soldiers, their families and their friends. I came to know who they are, what they care about and what their hopes and dreams are.
Now, with the launch of the film in the United States, United Kingdom and Israel, It has been eye-opening to see how people relate to these young men, who are touring with the film telling their own personal stories. They are bright, strong, and so wellversed in areas of life which most young Americans have never experienced. Some saw them as heroes, others as peers, some with skepticism – but all saw them with respect. How can you not? When we began showing our film, we wanted people around the world to understand that Israeli soldiers are regular teenagers, yet extraordinary young people. They have girlfriends and boyfriends, hobbies, and dreams for the future like everyone else.
And while my lens has been focused on them, my heart has been somewhere else.
My own sons have served in the army.
Their relationships to that service were each different, their feelings about what they went through in that service were different, and the young men they grew up to be also quite different. One is filled with pride when thinking of his experience, the other – who is still in – is itching to get out.
Despite the dissimilarities, their service shared something in common – one mother, who cried and worried for them, who struggled to support them through the rigors and intensity of training, who dreaded the battlefield, who was filled with more pride and emotion than could ever be expressed.
The soldiers in Beneath the Helmet are the focus of the film, and what people think of Israeli soldiers may be impacted by how you perceive them. But behind the scenes – and behind the lens – are the mothers, sisters and girlfriends who vividly live the experience, even if they themselves are not beneath the helmet.
These moms, these women who surround the soldiers are sisters-in-arms, real warriors.
The Israeli army rests on the young men and women who serve. But those young heroes are supported every step of the way by a sorority of women.
During Operation Protective Edge, I found myself calling and emailing Barbara Adler almost daily. Barbara is the mother of Eden, a paratrooper commander in the film. I wanted to get updates on Eden, but I also needed to touch base with one of the few people in the world who could understand the pain, the fear and the strength of seeing a son go off to battle. Feeling the pull of the sorority of mothers of soldiers. Being able to eat, sleep and even breathe only slightly more than a woman whose own son was on the front, because once an army mother, always an army mother.
In making this film, I aimed to allow viewers to have an objective look at the young people who serve in the army. To make it impossible to ignore that these soldiers are someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s whole world – and are themselves surrounded by an entire world of hopes and dreams, fears and desires that is the love of a mother.
This was summed up poignantly for me during production. At one point, on a visit to the Adler home, we filmed Barbara as she was doing Eden’s laundry. Putting the clothes into the machine, she mused, “I can’t believe I’m saying this. I’m actually happy doing his laundry... And we’re so happy that they come home safe that we’re willing to do anything.
Just as long as they’re safe... And we know that it’s hard in the field and if... and if my softener, the smell of my softener makes him smell home in the middle of the field, then I’m kind of happy about that. Then he has something positive to hold onto.”
I knew exactly how she felt.The author is the creator and producer of Jerusalem U’s new documentary Beneath the Helmet.