Former Lone Soldier From Los Angeles Publishes Memoir About IDF Experience

Levin’s military service and his injury had a transformative impact on him and opened his eyes to the challenges Israeli soldiers face after they are discharged.
August 13, 2021
Max Levin

“The shots kept coming and we couldn’t pin down the source. We had our weapons drawn, but we could not shoot blindly into the area we just came from, other Israeli soldiers were still in the area, and God forbid we hit them. Rather than return fire, we stayed pinned down while the head of our unit called in another tank. The tank rolled in and let out a smokescreen. As I crawled behind the tank, I could hear “pop pop” as the sniper’s bullets bounced off it.”

When Los Angeles native Max Levin was severely wounded during Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza, he began keeping a journal on his phone while in the hospital. Eventually uploading all of the notes onto his computer, he found he had hundreds of pages about his unique experience relocating from California to the Middle East to become a paratrooper soldier in an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

He decided to turn what he had written into a book.

“I wanted there to be something out there that taught and showed the modern IDF through the lens of an American,” Levin, 28, said.

The result, “Under the Stretcher,” published on March 13, 2021 by Red Penguin Books, is a vivid and accessible memoir about a young Jewish-American’s experience as a lone soldier—one of the “determined young men and women from all over the world who choose to leave the comfort of their homes and families to become proud IDF soldiers … with no immediate family in Israel, or a warm and loving household to come home to,” according to the IDF

“When you talk about him being a lone soldier, he was really alone,” said his mother, Judy Levin, who also lives in Los Angeles.

Raised in a Zionist home, Levin visited Israel every year from the time he was one year old. At the age of eight, after meeting a family friend in Israel who was a commander in the IDF, he decided he, too, would become an IDF soldier.

Levin made good on that promise to himself. In 2011, after graduating from the Los Angeles-based de Toledo High School, then known as New Community Jewish High School, he expressed his desire to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) and enlist. When Levin told his parents that he wanted to move to Israel and serve in the military, the two had concerns, and only after he agreed to first participate in a gap year through Young Judea, so he could adjust to life in Israel, did they give him their blessing to go.

While living on Kibbutz Nir Oz, Levin underwent extensive training, and he joined Palcahan Tzahanim, a special forces unit within the IDF. One month later, in 2014, the war between Israel and Gaza broke out, and he was wounded in an explosion in Gaza—the worst explosion during the entire war. Four of his fellow soldiers were killed, including his commander, Lt. Paz Eliyahu.

“All I could think about was what was going on with my friends and how do I go back and support them,” Levin said. “When you’re with a close group like that and going through a major incident you don’t want to be alone, you want to be with those people, so the only thing I cared about was being with my friends in the army.”

Levin’s military service and his injury had a transformative impact on him and opened his eyes to the challenges Israeli soldiers face after they are discharged.

“When he finished the army, he was a completely different person,” Judy said. “He was so determined. He showed such strength of character.”

Levin, who moved back to Los Angeles and now works in strategic consulting for financial companies, has dedicated his book to those who did not survive the 2014 war.  Proceeds from sales will benefit Bshvil haMahar (For Tomorrow), an Israel-based organization helping discharged IDF soldiers manage the aftereffects of combat experiences through group-led activities in nature.

On Aug. 25, Levin is participating in a live discussion about the book during a virtual Q&A organized by Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA). As of August 12, 300 people were registered to hear him speak.

Levin hopes readers and others tuning in to the conversation will “get insights about Israel today, including the last operation they had a few months ago, and hear my perspective of what’s going on, what the soldiers are going through, and how that ties into my experience in the IDF. It’s been a few years [since my service] but it’s still pretty relevant.”

To learn more about Levin’s story and ask him questions, join JNF-USA’s Reading Series event on Aug. 25. Register at jnf.org/readingseries.


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