As Americans celebrated Veterans Day, Jewish people across Israel stood in empathy with the families of U.S. soldiers.
Our country does not have a veterans’ day, but does have Memorial Day. Remembering our fallen heroes is a fundamental aspect of our national life. There is no official reason that we do not have a Veterans Day, but the explanation may be that we do not celebrate our former soldiers, because they are a huge percentage of Israeli society, and would therefore entail celebrating just about everybody.
Israeli army service is compulsory, which means that almost all Israeli families—indeed, the whole family of Israel—shares the common struggles, worries, triumphs and pride that exemplify the life of army families. We know what it means to send a beloved son or daughter out to battle to defend the values, homeland, and way of life which are so precious to us. We know what it means to dread deployment, to pine away for the precious reunion, to live from update to update, from phone call to phone call, and to swell with the joy and respect of supporting a brave soldier in uniform.
Today, Israel is home to over 50,000 army veterans who were wounded in the service of their country—not to mention the ones who were not. There are 750,000 active and reserve soldiers—constituting over 9 percent of Israel’s total population. To put that into perspective, the United States currently has 2,230,000 army personnel, .7 percent of America’s population. If the United States had the same per capita number of soldiers as Israel, there would be 27,787,098 in the U.S. military. Imagine how much Veterans Day would mean to the average American.
In many ways, Israeli soldiers are just like American ones—with families, friends, interests and dreams. And yet because the survival of the nation is at stake on a daily basis—and the threats so great and imminent—Israeli soldiers carry the weight of Israeli freedom on their shoulders on a daily basis. When you consider that so many of these soldiers are 18-21 years old—the typical ages of soldiers serving their 3 years of compulsory service – you understand that the fate of Israel rests with its children.
In our new documentary, Beneath the Helmet, you will meet the young people who go through the rigors of army training in order to uphold the freedoms and values upon which their nation was founded. With the mystery of IDF soldiers unveiled, you will learn about the real young people who serve beneath the helmet.
When you do, you will learn about the real Israel, about the nation whose soldiers determine its survival, whose cherished children grow up quickly in a region which demands it, who give up a lot of themselves in order to live up to that purpose, but gain so much in return.
Some Israeli veterans have seen a lot of Israel’s most famous wars—after all, Israel is only 66 years old, there are soldiers who fought in Israel’s War of Independence who are still alive, as well as the Six Day War, etc. The country was truly built on their backs. Yet some of Israel’s veterans are so young, just at the beginning of their adult lives, and already having made critical decisions for the futures of their troops and their homeland. The disparity between these elder, seasoned vets and these young, soon-to-be college students is shocking—and yet they share something which few people can understand, save the soldiers and the people who love them.
Perhaps Israel should adopt a Veterans Day. The honor and recognition Americans give to their former servicemen is a beautiful thing, a well-deserved tribute to the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for America. Israeli veterans deserve this distinction no less—even if it means everyone honors himself and many of the people he knows. In Israel, we all know what it means to support a soldier—or to be one. And we are mighty proud of them. So perhaps we don’t need a Veterans Day—perhaps, in Israel, every day is Veterans Day.
Aviv Regev is a paratrooper commander featured in Jerusalem U’s new documentary, “Beneath the Helmet”. Learn more at www.BeneathHelmet.com