A tale of three continents

Sgt. Joseph Aranov left New York to live in Israel and serve in the IDF. His Israeli-born father and Dutch-born mother – who met on a kibbutz – support his decision

Date: 19/01/2013, 6:38 PM     Author: Yair Barzilai

Sgt. Joseph Aranov had never envisioned himself as a soldier, but by the time he turned 20 he felt something in his life was missing – something more tangible in his quest to rediscover his Jewish identity and roots, a way to give back to the country he holds so dear. "I felt like I can do more than just sit in a college classroom; I am young and have energy," he explained. "I wanted to help others and contribute to the State of Israel."

During his soul searching and contemplation, Aranov was reminded of his father's rare but memorable tales of army nostalgia from the time he was a commander during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. "My father never liked to talk much about the war, but when he did talk it was inspiring," Aranov recounted. 

The inspired young man decided to turn words into actions, continue the family legacy and embark on a journey from New York to the birth country of his father and predecessor – Israel.

Upon arrival, Joseph first settled on Kvuzat Yavne, a kibbutz in southern Israel, where he studied Hebrew in an ulpan and worked in landscaping. "I didn't speak a word of Hebrew when I arrived; it was challenging," he said. "I knew if I wanted to succeed in the army I needed to speak the language." 

Aranov then enrolled in Garin Tzabar – a kibbutz-based program that prepares young foreigners and immigrants to enlist in the IDF.

In his father's footsteps

While several IDF units appealed to the young New Yorker, Sgt. Aranov was determined to continue where his father had left off decades earlier: in the Armored Corps.

"My father was in the Nahal Paratroopers but had to learn to be a tanker on the fly," Sgt. Aranov explained. That story goes back forty years.

When the Yom Kippur war broke out in 1973, Joseph's father was a soldier in the Nahal Paratroopers Battalion. The elder Aranov was called to the Syrian front, where he successfully recovered Syrian tanks near the Israeli border. Due to the heavy losses suffered by the Armored Corps, he and his comrades received immediate orders to utilize these tanks.

After undergoing a-two week crash course in tank navigation and combat, they began operating the captured tanks.

In his mother's footsteps

The pull towards life on a kibbutz seems something deeply engrained in the Aranov family. Joseph's mother, a Dutch citizen, first came to Israel to volunteer on Kibbutz Yotvata and contribute to the country she admired.  During her stay on the kibbutz, she met Joseph's father, and the two fell in love. She decided to convert to Judaism.

The couple married and moved to New York, where they pursued their respective careers and education. It was there that Joseph was born.

"When I told my parents of my decision to move to Israel and join the army, they were nothing but supportive," Joseph said. "They understand the integral role that Israel plays in my life and the power it has to further strengthen my Jewish identity."

Sgt. Aranov has now been in the army for over two years and plans to stay and continue his academic studies in Israel following his release from service, pursuing degrees in physical therapy and biology.

His advice to those considering following in his footsteps? "To people thinking about making this move I can only say: I love it here. It was a life changing experience and everything I was hoping it would be. I can only recommend it."