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From Quaker High School to the IDF: Profile of a Lone Soldier

Camp Rama, Michael Levine and attending a Quaker high school were among the factors that led Akiva Goldstein to become a Paratrooper in the IDF.
Newly inducted IDF paratrooper Akiva Goldstein and his parents in Akiva's apartment in Jerusalem, September 7, 2012.

Newly inducted IDF paratrooper Akiva Goldstein and his parents in Akiva's apartment in Jerusalem, September 7, 2012.
Photo Credit: Daniel Tauber

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. That may have been the case for 20-year-old Akiva Goldstein who decided to make aliyah and join the IDF after graduating from high school – a Christian one.

“I think that if I had gone to the Jewish high school, I’m not sure if I would be in Israel today,” Goldstein says.

Goldstein made aliyah at the end of 2011, leaving behind his family, friends and a girlfriend, none of whom, have an intention to follow him (except for vacations and visits).

He was recently inducted into the IDF’s elite Paratrooper’s Brigade.

Goldstein was raised in a Jewish-conservative household in Philadelphia, attending the Jewish elementary school of Solomon Schechter and Camp Rama in the summers. He chose to go to the Quaker Friends’ Central High School in part because of the school’s focus on athletics, but also in order to broaden his horizons.

Though the school had a large percentage of Jews, Goldstein explains that “the majority of them are less than reform, they maybe go to synagogue once in a year, they don’t know much about Judaism.”

So with an obviously Jewish name, a Star of David necklace, and his greater knowledge of Judaism, “I was the token Jew, even though I wasn’t orthodox,” he said.

Being the sole identifiable Jew and one of the only students with a connection to Israel, “strengthened my Zionism,” he explained, as it was no longer something he could take for granted.

It also made Goldstein “realize that there are so many Jews that don’t have a connection to the place that we call home.”

“If I continued like that, if I turned into that,” and “if Jews continued to do that, there’s going to be no one left, just the silent annihilation of Judaism.”

Camp Rama and Michael Levine

But a Herzilian realization about the necessity of Zionism after spending time in a non-Jewish setting wasn’t the only thing that drove Goldstein to Israel.

At home, Goldstein was raised in a Zionist environment, filled with Judaica and ornaments from Israel and where Israel “was part of our discussion,” his mother, Pearl, explained. The family has made many trips to Israel, the first time with Akiva when he was six-years old. Both of his siblings studied for a year in Israel, one in yeshiva and the other at Hebrew University.

Akiva, however, gives most of the credit for his decision to move to Israel and join the army to the Israel-focused atmosphere of Camp Rama, of which his father is currently the President (an unpaid lay-leader position).

“Every summer they would have 30-40 Israelis working at the camp, sports, lifeguards…there were families that came from Israel and their kids were in our age groups.”

Another factor at the camp was Michael Levine, the American lone soldier killed in action during the Second Lebanon War, whom Goldstein admired from afar.

Levine had to literally force his way into the army. When Levine approached the IDF recruitment office, he was not allowed in because he had not received his first draft notice. So he scaled the compound’s wall and climbed in through a bathroom window on the second floor.

By the time Levine was in the army, people in the camp knew, even though he no longer attended the camp.

Goldstein says he even remembers Levine visiting the camp, during Levine’s month’s leave, a few days before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War.

Levine’s death affected the entire camp. One evening, people closest to Levine in the camp, like Levine’s twin sister Dara who was a counselor in Goldstein’s age group, were called away one by one, until the night’s activities were finally cancelled.

“It was a very sad and terrible night,” Goldstein recalled.

While Levine wasn’t Goldstein’s inspiration for joining the IDF – something Goldstein had always wanted to do – Goldstein said he joined the paratroopers “in honor of Michael.”

Pushing his way in

Like Levine, Goldstein also had to push himself into the army recruitment office when he too was not allowed in without that first draft notice which would provide the date for an initial interview.

When he was told at the entrance that he wouldn’t be allowed to enter, he declared that he would wait there until he was given a date.

“So I sat there for five hours” until “someone came out and said you can do it right now.”

That was about one year ago. Since then Goldstein completed a year at the Keshet mechina, a pre-military orthodox yeshiva in the Golan Heights. In July he was accepted as a paratrooper and has already completed several weeks of basic training.

On Thursday, September 6th, Goldstein marched onto the kotel plaza with the rest of his unit, swore to defend the State of Israel, and received his gun and Tanakh in a formal induction ceremony.

“A sense of self-pride doesn’t even begin to describe it,” he said. “Everything that I have worked for in the past year, all my life’s motivation, connection to Israel, had finally come true.”

About the Author: Daniel Tauber is a frequent contributor to various prominent publications, including the Jewish Press, Arutz Sheva, Americanthinker.com, the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. Daniel is also an attorney admitted to practice law in Israel and New York and received his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. You can follow him on facebook and twitter.


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11 Responses to “From Quaker High School to the IDF: Profile of a Lone Soldier”

  1. Bill Fedullo says:

    "So with an obviously Jewish name, a Star of David necklace, and his greater knowledge of Judaism, “I was the token Jew, even though I wasn’t orthodox,” he said."

    As a graduate of Friends' Central School I find this absurd and offensive. FCS is 40-50% Jewish; while, as the article states, not all Jews there are practicing, this article's attempts to portray Mr. Goldstein as some sort of religious outcast is laughably dishonest. Also the idea that Zionist feeling is somehow rare at FCS is likewise laughably dishonest.

  2. Zach Nichols says:

    DEATH TO ZIONIST INVADER

  3. It also mentions that he is the "sole identifiable Jew" and the "only one with a connection to israel.". Its utterly ludicrous–what allows him to say that he has a greater connection to Israel than any other student? I'm tired of this "holier than thou" stuff.

  4. Ben Fogel says:

    Bill, you know there is more than just a hint of truth in what they are getting at. While it's not that polarized, few Friends' Central Jews are practicing Jews or even identify as Jewish outside of "my parents are Jewish and Israel's a cool place; I vacationed there once."

    Jordan, his greater connection to Israel is that he actually decided to move there, make Aliyah, leave all he knew behind and fight for the nation's sovereignty and people. That's a pretty strong connection.

  5. Bill Fedullo says:

    Ben, he was not a *token* Jew. He was not the "sole identifiable Jew." Look, I actually agree that people like me (i.e. mischling) kind of herald the dissolution of the Jewish people as a separate culture. But you should be *personally* offended by this article. Your identity as a practicing Jew and a Zionist is being denied in the pursuit of framing a victim complex.

  6. Ben Fogel says:

    Obviously he was not the "token Jew," but if you've ever sat down and had a conversation, be it in the cafeteria or anywhere else, you know that even the Jewish students "poke" fun or make sarcastic remarks about a Chai Necklace, the the Matzah someone's eating or something they're wearing. I'm not saying people are anti-Semitic or ignorant, I'm merely saying that when someone wears a necklace, eats Matzah or sometimes even wears an Israeli t-shirt, everyone seems to have their own two-cents to add or their own little comments and quips, which in turn can make someone feel like the "token Jew" or the "sole identifiable Jew."

  7. Allison Feld says:

    Plenty of Jews at FCS have strong connections to Israel, including myself, and express them in different ways. But you cannot deny the fact that Akiva is acting on, and physically fighting for his beliefs, and for peace in Israel. The paratrooper unit (HaTzanchanim) he is in is arguably the most elite and requires him to participate in the riskiest situations possible while fighting in the military. There's a major difference between saying "there's a whole lot of craziness going on in the Middle East and in Israel" and critiquing the decisions being made by its leaders, and actually getting involved, and putting your life on the line to try and achieve some level of peace.

  8. This is the reason why I stopped practicing Judaism–just because you mindlessly practice rituals daily, or decide to risk your life towards a cause does NOT imply that you're connection to your religion is any less strong or valid than anyone else's. I highly resent anybody saying that akiva is somehow a "better" Jew or one with a "stronger connection towards Israel" than any other Jewish person out there simply because he joined the IDF and we didn't.

  9. Allison Feld says:

    you're right, you don't have to do every mitzvah or ritual to be a Jew with strong connections to your faith and people, but one BIG part of Judaism is having a homeland, and that homeland is Israel. It needs to be protected, because its existence and safety is under a lot of risk right now. Not everyone is going to join the army and physically protect the country and not everyone has to ( Heck, I'm obviously not, I'm in college right now), but it is important to support the people who are. It's not a matter of being better than one another, or who has a better connection. There's a saying "kol yisrael areivim ze la zeh" – the nation of Israel is responsible for one another, so it is important to support Akiva, and his endeavors.

  10. Grant Schiller says:

    "…sole identifiable Jew and one of the only students with a connection to Israel…" What? Is the publication talking about the same school?

  11. Adamandeve Waswhite says:

    You Jews don't actually believe yourselves that King Solomon was a jew do ya?

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