Brad, 24, grew up in Atlanta, GA, where he attended a Conservative Jewish day school.
“We always studied about Israel,” he says. “One period every day was either about the Holocaust or about Israel.”
In the eighth grade, his entire class was supposed to go to Israel for three-weeks, but “It was just after the start of the second Intifada, so they took us to New York instead, which wasn’t as much fun…”
Brad says he was left with a yearning to go visit Israel some day. He continued through a public high school, then took Accounting in college.
“About four months into the course, I was sitting in class one day, and I said to myself, This isn’t right for me. I’m eighteen, I’m young, I want to go see the world.”
He contacted the Birthright organization and joined their Taglit program. “They took us for two weeks, paid for the plane ticket there and back, they paid for food, hotels, everything.”
He went without any of his friends. “I always like to travel alone,” he says. “I meet new people and I can do whatever I want to.”
Besides showing the young Americans the sites, the Taglit staff tried to familiarize them with life in Israel. Brad liked what he saw. When he came back to America he missed it. “Immediately, I started looking for ways to get back to Israel,” he says.
His family was very supportive. “My parents grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. My dad was part of the Beitar youth organization there. When he was 18 he wanted to go serve in the IDF, but his father became sick and my dad had to stay and take over the family business.”
Brad did some research and decided to attend a five-month program at a kibbutz ulpan. “We were a group of 36 people, living on the kibbutz and learning Hebrew. I was working in their sprinkler factory.”
Instead of living an insular life in the ulpan, his five months were a time of discovery. Every weekend, Brad and five of his friends from the kibbutz program would travel to different spots, exploring the country. It also helped him with his Hebrew.
“Every day that went by, I felt more at home,” he says. “I felt that my soul was settled.”
In 2008, after the ulpan, Brad and two friends rented an apartment in Tel Aviv, and continued their exploration of Israel.
Eventually he returned to America and stayed with his parents, working as a car mechanic. But he couldn’t stop missing the country he had begun to think of as his home.
Finally he called Nefesh B’Nefesh and decided to make Aliyah. He told his parents, then went through the process. An adopted child of Christian birth parents, Brad was converted by a Beit Din in Houston, TX, but says he had to advocate for his right to be accepted as a Jew. “I told them I didn’t believe any person could sit and judge me and say, We don’t think you’re Jewish enough, only God can judge me.” he says.
A month later he received a letter apologizing for the mishap, he was welcome to make Aliyah as a Jew. Now he had to tell his parents.
“My mom turned white, but my dad had the biggest grin I’d ever seen on his face,” Brad describes.
“When we landed in Israel,” on the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, “they took us to the old terminal and there was a massive celebration, with soldiers, flags, about 500 people, crying, Thank you for coming to Israel… And I said to myself, this was a right decision.”
Brad says he walked off and cried for half an hour. “It was utter joy, utter happiness.”
He stayed with friends in Hertzelia, found a job after less than a week, and met a young woman he fell for head over heels. A few months had gone by, and he received his first notice from the Army, inviting him to come in and register for his compulsory service.
When his enlistment order had come in, he took his girlfriend and flew to see his parents in America. His mother begged him not to go into a combat unit, and he promised to pick a different direction – even though he had been admitted into the paratroopers unit. His recruiting officer understood, and together they figured a new tract.
“I’ve always had a dream to work on combat planes,” he says.
He went into infantry basic training with “regular” Israelis, rather than an ulpan-oriented course. He was concerned about his everyday Hebrew skills – but ended up at the end of the course more fluent in Hebrew than he would have been with fellow English speakers in the ulpan.
He was recruited by the IAF and took a course for fighter aircraft technicians. Before being accepted, though, he had to convince committees and individual officers that his Hebrew was good enough. They even asked him to become an English tutor instead. But he insisted, and the Army gave in.