Jewish communities throughout the United States know the role of the Israel Defense Forces. What they don’t know well enough, said IDF Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, is the role of the Israeli soldier.
In May 2008, to bring the truth about these soldiers to Jews outside of Israel, Anthony founded Our Soldiers Speak, he said. On Tuesday, he will speak at Cong. Arzei Darom at an event co-sponsored by that shul, Netivot Shalom, Shaare Tefillah, and Beth Aaron, all in Teaneck.
The program, called “Israel’s Sons Become Brothers in Arms: A 10-Minute Translation Under Fire,” is designed to show the soldiers as real human beings, he said.
“Particularly among the younger audience, people feel that the Israeli soldier is born as a soldier, that the Israeli soldier somehow relishes the idea of battle – and it’s not like that,” Anthony said last week in a telephone interview. “The Israeli solder is a reluctant warrior and the only reason he takes up arms is in the pursuit of peace.”
While Anthony and 15 other IDF soldiers speak on several topics around the country, he is most interested in the morality of the IDF and in explaining just how humane its soldiers are, even during times of war.
Anthony was a student at the University of Manchester during the second intifada and said he witnessed anti-Semitism and strong anti-Israel sentiment all around him.
“I realized then that the only place where a Jewish person’s safety is guaranteed is Israel,” he said. To help preserve that state, “I felt I had a role to play as a soldier in the IDF. It was a journey home, it was an opportunity to learn what it means to be a Jew unafraid, and it was a true honor to serve as a member of the most humane, considerate, educated fighting force in the world.”
Since March, Anthony has been visiting synagogues, yeshivas, and college campuses, speaking about his experiences in the hope that it will give Jews in the United States the tools to combat media bias.
Anthony’s mission is to educate as many Jewish people as possible, but he said the most important Jews to reach are those between the ages of 10 and 30, because this age group is affected most by the media.
“It’s vital that they hear our side of what actually transpires on the front lines, particularly now as they face an anti-Israeli invective that’s coming from the media,” Anthony said.
Last Friday, Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley – after hearing Anthony speak at the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies -invited him to speak at a send-off service for graduating high school seniors.
“Israel and its soldiers depend on American Jewry to support them and make their case for the American public, which sometimes gets distorted information about the moral fiber of the Israeli army,” Shull said. “He made it very clear the kind of instant, split-second decisions they have to make and they make them with great seriousness, in terms of dealing with an enemy that seems all too willing to put their civilian population at risk.”
Tuesday’s event is open to the public, said Rena Schlussel, chair of the Israel committee at Netivot Shalom.
“There’s been a lot of interest in having him, and the other synagogues were very interested in sponsoring it together and doing it as a joint program,” she said.
“One-to-one, you can’t help but be impressed by his dedication and his story,” Shull said. “It’s not like he was already a public speaker and decided one day he cared about Israel. He cared about Israel and decided he had to speak. It’s the sense that he has to do something, that there is an audience that needs to hear his message.”
This summer, Anthony plans to speak at sleep-away camps and in October, he is starting a tour of 35 colleges in 60 days, including Columbia University, Binghamton University, the University of Maryland, and Harvard. He is also going back to the United Kingdom to speak at Oxford and Cambridge.
“The reason behind the campus tour is that college students in America are besieged] by a media onslaught that we haven’t seen the likes of before. We must combat it and we must do so immediately,” Anthony said. “My time in the IDF showed me clearly that the Jewish people have cause only to be proud of our actions.”
For more information on Our Soldiers Speak, visit www.oursoldiersspeak.org. To learn more about Tuesday’s event, e-mail Schlussel at email@example.com.