Exclusive Interview: New Film Takes You Behind the Scenes with the IDF
Whatever you expect of Jerusalem U‘s new film, Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front, it is sure to surprise.
The documentary film Beneath the Helmet provides intimate, fly on the wall entry into the lives of a group of fresh out of high school recruits to the Israel Defense Forces. Not only are we provided access into top secret training bases, but into the homes and sometimes complicated circumstances of these very, very young soldiers. The film feels real, because it is real. These are not actors, their struggles and triumphs rivet because it is true.
Within a few minutes into the film one begins to care about the kids (kids to me) testing their personal limits in basic training. Coral; the affluent Herzliyan on the verge of dodging her army service, Oren: the eighteen year old who journeyed to Israel from Switzerland to join the army, Eden; the Yemeni-American lieutenant – and many others.
In an early scene we meet Private Mekonan Abeba. For years his family dreamed of making Aliya, to leave their Ethiopian village for the Holy Land. A few hours before boarding the plane to Israel, his father tragically passed away, leaving his mother to raise Mekonan and his nine siblings in a two room Bnei Brak apartment.
We soon discover that Mekonan’s personal life is far too complex for an eighteen year old to bear. We share his anxiety as he is torn between the needs of his family and duty to his adopted homeland. Being privy to the struggle and outcome of Mekonen’s story is reason enough to see Beneath The Helmet which will have its Seattle premiere at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth on Sunday, February 15th (one showing only). The evening will include an authentic Israeli (meat) menu and will honor current and veteran members of the Israel Defense Forces. Tickets for the film and an authentic Israeli dinner may be purchased here.
Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers of the host congregation and one of the many community co-sponsors explained why Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front was selected as the third film in his congregation’s Love of Israel film series.
For many of us who do not live in Israel, we have only a sketchy understanding of the kind of self-discipline and inner fortitude that it takes to be a member of the Israel Defense Forces. Beneath the Helmet offers a glimpse into this realm. I also appreciated the very human side of each soldier, their values, relationships and inner struggles. Finally, as Jews, we need to cultivate a sense of Hakarat hatov (gratitude) for what these young men and women do on a daily basis to protect our people in the Land of Israel. The movie goes a long way to helping us achieve that.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR, WAYNE KOPPING
Wayne Kopping, the Director of Beneath The Helmet is an experienced and respected filmmaker whose documentaries have been seen by over 40,000,000 people worldwide. He most recently directed Jerusalem U’s PBS release Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference. The Mike Report caught up with Wayne while he was on tour with Beneath the Helmet and he kindly agreed to answer a few probing questions about Beneath The Helmet and some of his other films.
While the average American kid is thinking about college, and parties, their Israeli counterparts are preparing to defend their country.
Few people are aware of the fact that the 3-year army service is mandatory in Israel, and save for a few exceptions, young Israelis end up in the army right after high school. So, while the average American, British or South African kid is thinking about college, travel and what parties to go to, their Israeli counterparts are having their heads shaved and preparing to defend their country from what is literally a daily existential threat.
What one sees is that this really is massive responsibility for an 18 or 19-year old to bear, especially considering their commanding officers, who would lead them into battle, are often scarcely 2-3 years older. So, it becomes a fascinating coming-of-age story and a rite of passage.
TMR: You were allowed unprecedented access into the lives of IDF soldiers and their officers, what was the most emotional/moving/surprising part of making this film for you?
WK: I was surprised by the humanity and professionalism of the officers, and the way they built their soldiers. I had kind of expected to see a lot of macho brovado and the usual kind of yelling and screaming we’re accustomed to seeing in American movies about the military. Instead, in many ways you see the opposite, which I think is a completely different approach to leadership and discipline. It was quite fascinating to behold.
TMR: You are clearly passionate about Israel and her survival, what fuels this passion?
I feel like it’s each of our duty to take a stand and do what we can to protect this tiny country.
At a time when much of the world is not exactly looking favourably at Israel and Jewish people, I feel like it’s each of our duty to take a stand and do what we can to protect this tiny country that is an island of democracy, human rights and opportunity, in a neighbourhood that is increasingly engulfed in madness, (ISIS, Hamas, anyone?).
The strongest allies we have in this war are the courageous moderate Muslims.