The Norman M. Fain Hillel Center held an Israeli Movie Night with a showing of “Beneath The Helmet” last Monday, Nov. 23.
“Beneath The Helmet” is a documentary that tells a coming-of-age story focused on the lives of five Israeli high school graduates who are taken into the military to protect their country. As an Israeli emissary, Gilor Meshulam joined students at the movie night in order to discuss the movie and his own personal experience in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
The documentary specifically follows the lives of Oren, Eilon, Mekonen, Eden and Coral. Oren, Eilon and Mekonen are all doing basic training with the 101st Paratrooper Brigade in the Negev Desert. Oren is a lone soldier from Switzerland. He left Israel when he was five years old, and he voluntarily came back to Israel at 18 to complete his military service. Â Mekonen Abeba is also a lone soldier from Ethiopia. Oren and Mekonen were both part of Michvei Alon, which is a pre basic training program that helps soldiers join into the Israeli Defense Force; they have become best friends since. Eden Adler is a commander in the 101st Paratrooper Brigade basic training base. He is responsible for the safety and effectiveness of forty-two recruits and three sergeants. Coral is a drill sergeant at Michvei Alon, and is responsible for the education and basic training of 12 soldiers; an abundance of them being from other foreign countries.
After the film, Gilor Meshulam spoke about his life and involvement in the IDF. Meshulam is currently an emissary for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. He completed his three years of required service in the military, and stayed in the military for four years after his mandatory service ended. Most people leave after their mandatory service is done, but unlike the others, after serving as an officer, Meshulam was respectively given the rank of captain. He said that, if there was not mandatory service, he would not have even been in the army.
“I’m not the type to serve in the military,” Meshulam said. “As a kid, I was the nerdiest kid in school, and then, suddenly I find myself as a captain in the military.”
He was very frustrated in the beginning of his service because of the crisis that comes along with joining the army. For every once in three weeks, they would be able to go home, and Gilor did not want to go back because he disliked it so much. Meshulam mentioned how they sugarcoat everything such as saying it will be “awesome” to protect the borders of Israel and how being a fighter is the most “glorious” thing, but then you enlist, and it’s horrible. It can be very hard and disgusting.
In fact, the movie mentions Eliraz Peretz, a deputy commander of the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion, who was a friend of Gilor that was killed during combat in 2010. Gilor served with him in the army and had the privilege to be with him when he died. It was the most emotional and touching part of the movie for Gilor.
Gilor also commented about the difficulty in finding individualism saying, “You do not feel like an individual. You feel like a collective. You’re the same, and you cannot be different. Everyone even looks the same: same hair and same clothes.” And even when he had some passion to be there, someone would always bring him down for it. Unfortunately, not everyone can be like Eden or Oren and want to be there.
“As a soldier, you tell yourself a lot of lies, in your mind, to move on. It’s really hard to justify why you are there,” Meshulam said. Unlike Oren, Gilor did not voluntarily choose to fight for his country, and if he was given the opportunity to choose service in the army or college, he would have chosen to go to school. Gilor even admits that he never thought about what he wanted to do after high school because his culture had already chosen part of his future for him.
“I never had the time to think about what I wanted to do. I was preoccupied with suffering in training,” Meshulam said. After enlisting, and even now, he said he has become very passionate with education and history; he wants to be an educator.
Like most college students, Gilor found himself caught between his dreams and his priorities; but the two could never be compared because the reality is that college students have it a lot easier than any soldier in the military ever will.