Two years ago this week, Operation Protective Edge had just ended. Operation Protective Edge was a war in Gaza instigated by constant rockets fired into Israel and the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys. IDF troops were sent into Gaza to close up terror tunnels infiltrating into Israel and detonate rocket launching sites set up throughout the Gaza Strip.

operation protective edge

By August 4th, 2014, IDF soldiers came home from Gaza, some unfortunately carried over the shoulders of their brothers in arms. Operation Protective is one among many wars that Israel has endured since the Jews have returned to this land.

Such is the history of Israel—since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Israel Defense Forces had struggled to preserve the country and protect her people.

Israeli Independence War. Source: Jewish Virtual Library
Israeli Independence War. Source: Jewish Virtual Library

Today, the IDF is seen as an incredible military, esteemed by other armies as one of the most efficient, capable, and moral in the world.

However, in 1948, no one could have predicted that the IDF would ever amount to such a great defense force for the Israeli people. Threatened by five surrounding nations, small militant groups in Israel were put together to make the Israel Defense Forces. The combined forces of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon were ready to take down Israel with their manpower as well as military capabilities.

At the time, aside from an insufficient amount of troops to withstand the enemy armies, the IDF did not have a single plane or any form of an air force. While the tragedy of war should not be glazed over with unnecessary romanticism, the miracle of Israel’s make-do first Israeli Air Force is uncanny and, as Producer Nancy Spielberg and Director Roberta Grossman present in their film, Above and Beyond, played a critical role in the establishment of the State of Israel.

American volunteers together with Israeli pilot in front of an Avia S-199, flew the first combat mission in the Israel War of Independence. Source: Jewish Journal
American volunteers together with Israeli pilot in front of an Avia S-199, flew the first combat mission in the Israel War of Independence. Source: Jewish Journal

The documentary film, Above and Beyond, presents the back story of the birth of the Israeli Air Force. With such an exciting sequence of events throughout this incredible true story, the film borders the sensation of an action movie.

In May, 1948, as Israelis were mustering forces, a few American Jews recognized the needs of their people far away in the land of Israel. After serving in the US Air Force in WWII, two Jewish American pilots recognized Israel’s dire need for airplanes. After pressing other Jewish American pilots to join them overseas, these two pilots flew 11 hours until they reached Israel and landed the first two planes of the new Israeli Air Force onto Israeli territory.

As the film reveals, little did these American pilots know that the establishment of the modern state of Israel would depend so heavily on their contribution. Other American veterans followed the lead of these two pilots and with the help of these volunteer soldiers, food and supplies were provided throughout the country and Israeli soldiers were able to successfully complete their missions along all of Israel’s borders.

As shown in Above and Beyond, overseas care from American Jewry is a well-established tradition. As mentioned in the film, Italian American singer Frank Sinatra did what he could as well to show support for Israel by contributing basic supplies to troops back in 1948.

This tradition continued throughout Operation Protective Edge in 2014—Americans and American Jewry made greats efforts to send food and moral support to IDF soldiers going in and out of Gaza. Likewise, many celebrities have shown support for the IDF through FIDF fund raising events.

Aside from presenting the admirable story of how Israel’s Air Force came to be, the film touches upon Jewish identity as well. Just as throughout Operation Protective Edge, Jews outside of Israel supported IDF troops and Israelis banded together to protect the country, Israelis and volunteer soldiers from abroad worked together to establish the State of Israel in 1948. American Jews who knew no Hebrew and maybe ate gefilte fish on holidays, the volunteer soldiers explained during the film how they became proud Jews while serving with the IDF in Israel’s War of Independence.

Just as the world was mesmerized by the establishment of the state of Israel and often is still amazed today by its flourishing progress despite continuous threats and constant terror, the volunteer soldiers recognized the miracle of 1948. In one veteran’s words, when asked if he thought Israel would survive throughout all these years, his response was “Israel is an article of faith.”

The film Above and Beyond reminds viewers of the blood and sacrifice on which Israel was build. Looking back at the heroes of 1948 and remembering the heroes of Operation Protective Edges from two years ago, the Jewish people continue to protect Israel and preserve the legacy of the incredible homeland as a just, democratic society in the Middle East.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz

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