Beneath the Helmet: You don’t need a uniform to defend Israel

For those who are not doing military service, there is much that needs to be done to defend Israel that does not require a uniform.

IDF troops on Lebanon border [file] (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF troops on Lebanon border [file]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If you could see me today, a few months after finishing five years as a commanding officer of more than 300 paratroopers, you would never believe that on the day of my IDF enlistment I was a scrawny 108-pound guy with glasses and a dust allergy.
Today, I am 24 years old, living in Tel Aviv with my girlfriend. In late 2009, however, I found myself secretly strapping weights on my legs to pass the army’s weight requirement, hiding my crazy dust allergy, and pleading with the eye doctor for medical clearance so I could stand a chance in entering a combat unit.
I could have avoided combat service – I was built for a desk job. But, growing up in this country, there are a few things we can’t hide from – the most obvious being the security situation. I felt I had to protect my family, my nation and the Jewish people from the dangers surrounding us. Moreover, I was raised with the values of self-sacrifice and the idea that everyone in Israel is responsible for one another.
From the outset, deciding to join a combat unit was a deep personal challenge. I was determined to prove to myself that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to, which in this case meant becoming a paratrooper.
The journey wasn’t easy. Basic training was very emotional and physically challenging. Even with my idealism, I asked myself more than once “why?” and “is it worth it?” Along the way all of my questions were answered. I now know that I can overcome just about anything.
Motivation is a big factor of success. I became a squad leader, platoon sergeant and then a platoon commander at age 21. You learn a lot about yourself when the lives of 40 teenagers are in your hands.
You decide when they sleep, shower and see their families. It was up to me to prepare them for combat and for life.
After the army, I traveled. I met people my age from more than a dozen countries who were interested in my life experiences. Only then did I truly realize how different our lives are. Teens my age are traveling, having fun and going to universities. An Israeli teen’s life is about survival.
Almost two years ago, I was on a training base, part of a unit that was being followed by a documentary film crew. They were with us for eight months of our basic and advanced training and followed us to our first assignment of guarding the border with Lebanon.
I was amazed at how much access they had. They were with us for every major milestone and many days in between; from the first day our soldiers shot their weapons to the final agonizing minutes of our final march to Jerusalem. It was clear that they were able to record the dramatic transformation that happens to every Israeli on their journey from teenager to combat soldier. The movie they produced is called Beneath the Helmet.
So many people are clueless as to who Israel’s soldiers really are, what motivates us and what we go through. For those who really want to see what our coming-of-age experience is really like, you can finally do it. The film gives a rare inside look into the lives of IDF soldiers. It shows who we really are and why we do what we do.
At the end of my service I was approached by the producers of the film, Jerusalem U, to represent the film in North America. I saw it as an amazing opportunity to continue defending Israel on a very different front.
As for those of you who are not doing military service, there is much that needs to be done to defend Israel that does not require a uniform.
Amongst your friends, in your communities, and on campus, speak out. Pick a side. Pick the side of justice, of moral values, of democracy – and fight for it.
In the last century, Judaism has become much more than a religion, it has become a global family.
Be an active part of it. See the film. Screen it in your community. Support Israel.
Aviv Regev is a paratrooper officer featured in Jerusalem U’s new documentary.