Film Highlights the Life of Fallen ‘Lone Soldier’

Grinning widely, Michael Levin steps out of line and walks toward an Israel Defense Force soldier, proudly accepting his formal induction into the army. Minutes later, the large movie screen shows a still photo of Levin in black and green face paint, just hours before he was killed during the summer war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The 22-year-old native of Holland, Pa., was the only "lone soldier" from the United States killed during the war — that term defined as someone not born in Israel who makes aliyah without his family, and then serves in the army. In Levin's case, he voluntarily joined, and was not drafted.

His story, which sparked international news coverage, is the source of a new documentary.

Titled "A Hero in Heaven," the film tells the young man's story through 45-minutes of still photos, home movies and interviews that move from his childhood to his enlistment in the IDF.

The Philadelphia premier took place on March 11, for approximately 400 people gathered at Congregation Tifereth Israel of Lower Bucks County in Bensalem, where Levin and his twin sister, Dara, celebrated B'nai Mitzvahs. "A Hero in Heaven" was previously shown at a United Synagogue Youth convention in December.

To make the film, director and producer Sally Mitlas — a Jenkintown-based entertainer and musician — asked Levin's mother, father and two sisters to find videotape and pictures of Michael.

According to Levin's father, Mark, all of this has helped him cope with the loss of his son.

"[My wife] Harriet and I decided to dedicate ourselves to perpetuating Michael's memory — his legacy, the things he stood for — and to try to help other lone soldiers," said Mark Levin after the event. "That entire process has been very, very therapeutic, and has really helped us."

The film begins with televised news clips about Levin's death, then continues with family members reading from the flood of sympathy cards they received. It then highlights Levin's ties to Israel, which became stronger after he attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos, became involved with USY and spent a high school semester in Israel.

He also felt compelled to join the IDF, according to the film, because of the influence of his maternal grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors, and because his paternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Levin's commanding officers and fellow soldiers tell of a 118-pounder who fought to compete with the bigger men in his unit.

"No pain no gain," says a uniformed Levin during one scene.

The film also shows footage of his funeral at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem — attended by thousands.

In the documentary, former Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu — a former Pennsylvania resident himself — comments about Levin's sacrifice: "If there were no people like Michael, [Israel] wouldn't be here."

'Crazy as Hell'

In another scene, Dara plays a phone message that her brother left shortly before his death.

"I'm in the middle of a war," said Levin. "It's crazy as hell … I wish you all the best."

While briefly addressing the crowd — many of whom were teary-eyed — after the movie, Mitlas said that there are plans to show the work on Israeli TV.

Partially sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the finished product will be part of an educational package intended to be sent to Hebrew schools and synagogues around the country, according to Mark Levin.

Used to teach junior high and high school students about the war, the materials will be provided for free, though organizations that accept the package will be asked to donate to the Michael Levin Memorial Fund for Israel, supporting lone soldiers.

"We'd like to believe this is not the end of Michael's story," his father relayed to the crowd, and "just the beginning."


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