Growing up in New Rochelle, Rebecca Shore never imagined she would spend eight months in the trenches of an Israeli combat training camp. But that’s exactly what she did to film her documentary, Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front. The 49-year-old filmmaker’s path was forever changed when she took a trip to Israel. “I fell in love at first sight,” Shore says, and 30 years later she’s still there. Shore, an Orthodox Jewish mother of nine, was inspired to capture the life of the young soldiers entering combat training when her 19-year-old son Michael began his mandatory three-year service in the Israeli army.
Here, Shore shares her biggest takeaways from filming her documentary, which was screened at Jacob Burns Film Center on April 14th.
The Israeli army is not like any other army in the world.
“The Israeli army is carried on the backs of very young commanders. You don’t find that in any other army in the world, where such young people are given such responsibility. You have a platoon soldier, whose average age is 25, in charge of 100 soldiers. In America, kids go to college at 18; in Israel, kids go into the army.”
Being put into a position of responsibility brings out greatness in a person.
“I watched a 20-year-old kid, the film’s Commander Eden, become a leader of men. Commanders have eight months to get these kids battle-ready to face ISIS and really serious enemies. Eden was in a situation where the army took away his sergeants; he was in charge of training everyone without any help. It was almost superhuman what was expected of him. And I watched this kid who was able to bear it because he didn’t have a choice.”
Every commander is a social worker.
“In the Israeli army, service is not just about training people to be great soldiers. These kids learn how to be great human beings. That was something I didn’t realize. For example, one commander tells a story about one of his soldiers not having a washing machine. So he spent his day off rounding up a huge washing machine to give to his soldier’s family. That was really eye-opening.”