I met “Hahish” (he doesn’t want his real name to be revealed), while in high school. A mutual friend introduced us. We were headed along the same path: he was a young Zionist who had been born in Russia and had moved to the US as a golaniteenager. He wanted to make Aliyah and serve in the IDF. He was already becoming acquainted with the Jewish way of life.

I was a kid with aspirations to lead Israel one day. I desperately wanted to have an effect on the situation on my beloved homeland. The “Peace Process” had sealed the fate of thousands of Jews who’d never again be able to raise their heads for fear of Arab terror. Both “Hahish” and I would move to Israel and create new lives for ourselves in the Holy Land.

While I continue trying to find my “path” in life, “Hahish” has gotten married and continues working in Tel-Aviv. I look up to my dear friend and mentor in a lot of ways. I look up to him for having performed his duty to the State of Israel and served in the army, for having set goals and achieved many of them, for being a “quiet” leader, and for having the courage to do what most American Jews would never dream of doing.

The following is an interview with “Hahish”:

Me: How did you become a Zionist? Please tell us about your activities at Champaign University?

Hahish: I guess it comes from my parents. We always spoke about what was going on in Israel at home. When I was in high school and college, I read a lot of literature about Israel’s history and how the country was founded. I was really inspired by the heroism and sacrifice of the Jews who founded the country. These young men and women chose a very difficult life for the good of the whole nation instead of pursuing careers or wealth in other countries.

During my time at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign I got involved with Jewish students organizations. I helped to bring a number of speakers to discuss Israel on campus. During that time the Second Intifada broke out and the Arab/Muslim students started organizing a lot of anti-Israel activities and rallies on campus. A few other students and I felt that the existing student organizations were not doing enough to counteract the anti-Israel activities on campus so we started a Tagar-Betar chapter.

This was a right wing Zionist organization. We started organizing pro-Israel rallies, counter demonstrations, and bringing more pro-Israel speakers to campus. Looking back I feel that our activities helped to keep anti-Israel organizations from spiraling out of control (this has been the case on many other campuses and also prompted other Jewish student organizations to start doing something in the process).

Me: How did you decide to become religious? Has this helped you out in life?

Hahish: This is was a long and slow process, there were many things that moved me along. Growing up in Russia, I was acutely aware of my Jewish identity from a young age.   Also my grandparents came from religious families so we kept certain traditions even in Russia. When we came to the US my parents sent me to a Jewish school. Then, in high school and college I got involved in Hillel (Jewish Students Organization), and would hang out a lot with religious Jewish students. I also went to various Torah classes and got involved in the Russian Jewish community in Chicago. I was inspired by the values and the way of life of the religious students on campus and by the Jewish community in Chicago.

I believe that being religious is part of being an educated Jew. Being religious provided me with both a balance and values in life. It’s really given me a sense of meaning and direction.

Me: Please tell us about your army service: when did you enlist? How long did you serve? Where? What were some of your most memorable experiences in the IDF?

Hahish: I joined the IDF in 2004 and served for about 15 months in combat infantry unit called Nahal. Most my training took place in the Negev desert and my active duty was in the Jenin area.

While in the army I remember there was always something special about going on leaves every two weeks or so. Let me explain what I mean by this: while on active duty you get accustomed to your routine like guard duty, patrols, cleaning, etc, and you don’t really think about the impact you’re having on your surroundings. When you get out and go to the city all of sudden you see civilian life going on: people going about their business, smiling etc.

This impacts you because you see a big contrast from what you are experiencing in the army and the life on the outside—these are “parallel dimensions.” You realize that all the difficulties and discomfort that you go through in the army contribute to regular people enjoying life and not worrying about war or terrorists. This is really a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

Me: Which political party(ies) do you support? Why?

Hahish: There are many parties that have something I agree with. However, the parties that I support most in the current Knesset are Ha’Bayit Ha’yehudi and Likud. Within the Likud I feel a strong connection with Moshe Feiglin’s faction. I feel these parties to one extent or another try to reorient Israel to more Jewish values and build a more independent and assertive country politically, militarily and economically. All of these goals are connected to us building a nation with a healthy self esteem and confidence in our values and destiny.

Me:  Should Israel be negotiating with the “Palestinians?” Should we ever consider giving away land?

Hahish: This is a difficult question. On one hand I feel that all of the land belongs to us and we should not be giving it away to anybody but the opposite: strengthening our control and presence in all of it. On the other hand, what do you do with 2mil-3mil Palestinians/Arabs who are living in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and within the green line? By the way I think that Israeli Arabs are also to an extent a part of the same problem, they have not fully accepted our rule of the land. Palestinian and Israeli Arabs for most part do not want to live under Jewish government and take part in resisting it in both active and passive ways. We can’t really give them all citizenships because it would destroy the Jewish majority. With this large hostile population living amongst us, we can’t really exercise full control and sovereignty over our land.

I think that the status quo can’t continue in the long run. The end result could have four possible outcomes:  One is we give away parts of our land with large Arab populations in Judea, Shomron, Gaza, parts of Galil and maybe Negev to create a Palestinian state. The second option is that there will be another war between Jews and Arabs and we will drive out the majority of the local Arabs out, with an insignificant minority remaining. The third option is Israel together with the Jewish Diaspora organizes a massive peaceful project to re-settle majority of Palestinian and Israeli Arabs outside of Israel. The fourth is that the Moshiach comes and somehow miraculously resolves the conflict.

Me:  What should be done about Jonathan Pollard? Iran?

Hahish:  Jonathan Pollard- I think Israel and the Jewish community in US should mobilize a major campaign to free him and use all possible peaceful means to do so. I think that Jewish students in the US can take a lead role by organizing grassroots action across American campuses running educational programs, organizing rallies, and pressuring politicians. This needs to be an extensive and prolonged campaign.

Iran-Israel should have bombed the Iranian nuclear facilities a long time ago.

Me:  What are you dreams for the future on a personal as well as a national level?

Hahish: This is a really big question which requires a lot of time to reply. My dreams on a person level are to continue growing as a Jew and getting closer to G-d; to build a family. On a professional level, I want to continue developing my career in technology marketing.

On a national level I would like to see Israel become a more Jewish state in its identity and values. I would like to see the interpersonal interactions and relationships between people in Israel become more gentle, civilized and less aggressive.  I believe that a stronger Jewish national identity will lead to a more political independence and assertiveness domestically and internationally. The improvement in interpersonal relationships will lead to a more pleasant life in Israel. Israel should be aiming to becoming a regional military, economic and political power.