Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Brian Mast.
Brian Mast at the Sar-El Army Base in Israel.

Never in the 23 years of Natan Glassman’s volunteering at an Israel Defense Forces army base has he seen anything like the outpouring of love and respect garnered by American veteran Brian Mast.

“Brian was a celebrity here, and everyone wanted to be with him, from the old ladies who volunteer at the base to the generals,” said Glassman. “He’s a hero but as we saw, a very humble one.”


The man Glassman described is a 34-year-old Christian, a full-time Harvard University student, and a father of three who, when he was disturbed by the rash of anti-Israel demonstrations both on and around his campus, decided it was time to go to Israel and lend a hand in whatever way he could.

There’s one more key detail about Mast: he lost his legs while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

“Those demonstrations seemed so wrong to me on so many levels,” Mast told JNS the day after he returned home to Boston from his volunteer stint in Israel. “As a soldier, I know that if Canada or Mexico or Cuba started shooting rockets into the U.S., we would react swiftly so they could never do it again and everyone would thank us for it. But Israel is crucified for trying to defend herself from attack and keep her citizens safe.”

The logistics of Mast’s recent two-week period as a volunteer on the IDF’s Sar-El Army Base weren’t simple.

“Sending a guy over with no legs took some doing,” he said without a trace of self-pity. “But I knew I needed to do something real to show my support. Posting ‘I support Israel’s right to defend herself’ on Facebook isn’t enough. Talk is cheap. I needed to get my hands dirty.”

The hand-dirtying in question was sorting and packing up medical supplies to ship out to bases around the country.

“It was no big deal what I did,” he said.

But it was a big deal to the people Mast met, from the soldiers on the base to those hospitalized from injuries sustained in the line of duty, many of them during last summer’s Gaza war. Not to mention the wounded IDF vets who challenged him to a game of wheelchair basketball.

Despite his reliance on his prosthetic legs to get around, Mast steadfastly refused the sit-down jobs and insisted on taking on the toughest and most hands-on tasks, according to Glassman.

“His can-do attitude affected everyone he worked with, everyone he met. The soldiers really felt he supported them; he was open to everyone and he earned their respect,” Glassman said.

Back at Harvard, Mast, who plans to run for Congress in 2016, is studying economics. He says he’s better prepared than before his Sar-El stint to spread the word about Israel.

“In the family and school and church I was raised in I was taught what great allies America and Israel are, but all summer I watched on the news as rockets fell into Israel and I heard all the negative demonstrations here. I knew I needed to stand alongside those soldiers and tell them that I, like many other Americans, are behind them all the way.”

One particularly poignant moment of Mast’s Israel trip was his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

“Seeing what the Jews went through put the history and the importance of Israel into perspective,” he says. “To think that there are people in this world who would like nothing better than to see that happen again to Jews is beyond horrible.”

Mast’s message of support was not lost on Israelis, said Pamela Lazarus, the program coordinator of the Sar-El base’s international volunteer project.

“Everyone who met him knew that Brian, as a non-Jew, had come to stand by the IDF and the people of Israel. He told us he wanted to be even a small part of the effort, and they all wanted to thank him.”

Mast was one of 4,000 people from around the world who volunteer for the IDF through the Sar-El program each year.

“It’s a unique opportunity for civilians who care about Israel and our soldiers to work closely together and really get to know each other,” Lazarus said.



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