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Jewish Journal

The all-too-brief life of American Israeli hero

by Danielle Berrin

July 5, 2007 | 8:00 pm

Michael Levin z''l

Michael Levin z''l

On Tisha B'av 2006, a lone soldier was laid to rest in Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery, the first paratrooper and the only American Israeli to be killed in combat during the conflict that became known as the Second Lebanon War.

In a new documentary, "A Hero in Heaven," directed by Sally Mitlas, a nation mourns the loss of a son. Trucks roved the streets of Jerusalem announcing the death of a holy man -- 22-year-old Michael Levin, who had immigrated to Israel to fulfill a dream. A procession walked for miles, during a holiday fast, to reach the hill where thousands of mourners gathered to bury their hero.

Israel's security demands a steady supply of fervent defenders. Levin had a passion for Israel, and longed to live in the country where he believed the future of world Jewry would unfold.

"A Hero in Heaven" portrays a determined young man who quelled parental opposition with the strength of his Zionist convictions. Using footage of Levin from his military training and other pivotal moments of his life -- as well as photographs and heartfelt interviews with his family, fellow soldiers and friends -- Mitlas' film celebrates a brief but fulfilled life -- the story of an American boy who chose to fight for Israel.

Levin's paternal grandfather was a decorated U.S. war veteran, having served in the Pacific during World War II, and his mother's parents were Holocaust survivors. Levin's grandfather's stories about Auschwitz inspired him to study Jewish history at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, as well as during a yearlong United Synagogue Youth Nativ program. When Levin completed his coursework, he decided to make aliyah and join the army.

Levin's ardent Zionism inspired Mitlas. "His story enabled the entire nation of Israel to focus on the reason we're there to begin with," Mitlas says. The film, along with a curriculum designed by Jewish educator Yossi Katz, is being made available to schools to help teach about life in the Israel Defense Forces. It is also being shown at synagogues and has been entered in Jewish film festivals.

Mitlas first heard of Levin's death in July 2006, while working on a video for Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where Levin had been a camper and staff member. She altered the ending of that film to include a tribute to the soldier. When his mother saw the video, she and Mitlas cried together. "I told Harriet [Levin's mother] that when it was the right time, I would like to do a documentary about Michael," Mitlas said. "She replied, 'Now is the time' -- a week after burying her son."

When the war broke out, Levin was visiting his family in the United States. He immediately flew back to Israel and requested to be sent to the front lines. While his unit was infiltrating Lebanon, the soldiers were attacked by Hezbollah. They took refuge in a building, where Levin was mortally wounded. His unit commander, Gilad Zvilich, carried his remains all night so he could be buried in Israel. In the film, Zvilich says "The final resting place for Michael is the place for heroes; the place where all the people who sacrificed for the State of Israel are laid to rest -- former prime ministers, great commanders and Michael."

For more information on this documentary, please visit http://www.aheroinheaven.com/. {--Tracker Pixel for Entry--}

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