How do you connect high school students in America to a holiday best observed in Israel? You show them exactly what it would be like if they, Jewish teens a few months or years away from graduation, lived in Israel.

ICJA students viewed Beneath the Helmet a powerful coming-of-age story, following the journey of five Israeli high school graduates who are drafted into the army to defend their country. At the age of 18–not much older than our own students–away from their homes, families and friends these young individuals undergo a demanding, inspiring journey, revealing the core of who they are and who they want to be. A must-see for anyone who wants to appreciate the mesirat nefesh of our soldiers.

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Following the program students reflected on what Yom HaZikaron means to them, as Jewish students in America.

Noah Best, senior: Yom HaZikaron is a day for American Jews to thank the protectors of the most precious gift we’ve received from Hashem, Eretz Yisrael.

Nava Wolgel, junior: As an American high school student, it can be difficult for me to understand the challenges of being an Israeli solider. However, I know what it feels like to lose a loved one. On Yom HaZikaron, even though I am so far away from the Land of Israel, I can relate to the overwhelming sorrow that permeates the country.

Siva Albom, freshman: Just because I don’t live In Israel doesn’t mean I don’t love, support my country and honor my soldiers.

Sarah Otis, senior: On Yom HaZikaron, we remember that Israel’s families are our family. Every year (and a little more each time), we feel the sacrifice, tragedy and risk that they always live.¬† And we look forward to tomorrow, Yom HaAtzmaut, when we can feel the joy and pride that all of Israel has for our country.

Dovi Garfinkel, senior: To me, Yom HaZikaron means remembering, honoring and paying my respects for the fallen soldiers of Tzahal as well as the numerous victims of terror. Yom HaZikaron is also a time to be grateful  that we have a state of Israel in which any Jew in the world is welcomed with open arms and all because of the sacrifices that the soldiers of the IDF make every single day.

Jake Birn, sophomore: It really shows how much of their own lives they have to dedicate to make sure we are safe. Yom HaZikaron isn’t only a day of remembering, its day of honoring.

Zoe Wolmark, junior: As an American high school student, it can be difficult to relate to Yom HaZikaron without any direct relation to any of the fallen soldiers that we commemorate. When I visited Israel this past summer I was able to go to Har Herzl and read some of the heroic stories of the fallen soldiers. It was heartbreaking yet incredible to read about their strength and willingness to sacrifice themselves for Israel. Even though I live in America, I have a lot of family and friends living in Israel, and their safety is very important to me. These soldiers gave their lives to protect the people of Israel. On Yom HaZikaron, I remember the soldiers whose stories I read about this past summer and all of the other soldiers who gave their lives to protect my family and friends living in Israel.

Sarah Russman, sophomore: This year Yom HaZikaron meant something more to me than another day we observe because my sister (alum Rachel Russman) joined the IDF this past year, so I was really able to relate to the video that was shown.

Anat Berday-Sacks, senior: Yom HaZikaron is a reminder of why I plan to join the IDF after college.

Shirelle Borochov, freshman: Yom HaZikaron is truly an important day for us as Jews. We remember all the brave soldiers who risked their lives for our country. We as a nation will always have a heart for our soldiers and will never forget. Even though I am not physically in Israel, I still feel so connected and close to this country! Am Yisrael Chai!

Sophie Gordon, senior: As a Jew living in the Diaspora, I have a greater sense of hakarat hatov to the soldiers fighting in the IDF. Without these soldiers, there would no Israel and there would be no day every year to celebrate the Jewish State of Israel.

Marli Gutman, freshman: Yom HaZikaron  is a day where we remember people who died fighting for the state of Israel and people who where murdered in terrorist attacks. As a high school student, I understand it because I have family and friends who are in the army and risk their lives protecting the state of Israel. By having people I know in the army, it helps me understand the real meaning of what Yom HaZikaron truly means.

Joseph Dimbert, freshman: Yom HaZikaron is a day to remember the soldiers that have passed and think about the soldiers currently serving. Since my sister, Hannah (ICJA alum), is currently serving in the Israel Defense Force, I feel a strong connection to Yom HaZikaron. I think that even if you don’t have a close friend or relative serving, it still means a lot to just stop and think about what the IDF has done and what they are doing to defend the Jewish State.

Machol Benmelech, senior: As an Israeli citizen living in America, I grapple with the understanding that I am physically far away and yet still very close to Israel and its people in my heart. What is so very humbling about the experience of Yom HaZikaron is the realization that the immense privilege of being able to live in Israel is made possible only through the unimaginable bravery and courage of innocent young lives.

Oshrat Faratci, senior: Yom HaZikaron is a day where we honor people of all different ages and backgrounds who all felt the same responsibility to put their lives on the line to protect citizens and the land of Israel. These soldiers were selfless, they put others before themselves. They understood the importance of family and why the Jewish people deserve a homeland. As an American senior high school student, I feel great gratitude for the strength and responsibility carried by Israeli soldiers my age.

Daniella Lakser, sophomore: To me, Yom HaZikaron is a day that Jews all over the world can feel connected to because, not only is it our homeland that people are fighting for and losing their lives for, but it is also amazing how so many non-Israelis move to Israel and fight because they also feel a strong connection to the land and an obligation to defend it.

Thanks to Mrs. Adina Blaustein, Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld and students Sophie Gordon and Joseph Dimbert for creating such an inspirational program.