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A Love Affair with Israel

Sima Borkovski, October 1, 2009

Daniel Strumberg. (Photo: Allon Borkovski)

When Daniel Strumberg first arrived in Israel in 2000 at the age of 20, it was "love at first sight." Only he did not anticipate this love affair would last six years and end up with him on his way to becoming a solider of the Israeli army.

Born in a small village in Northern Sweden, this pastor's son was raised on stories of the Holy Land and a love of Israel and its people. "As a Christian I believe in the Bible, and the minute I stepped out of the airport I felt this country is blessed and basically all I wanted was to help it in any way I can," he recalls.

"Sweden is famous for its continuous sympathy towards the Palestinians and criticism of Israel because its policy over the years was always to favor the weak over the strong, and the Palestinians were always perceived as the weak side of the conflict. However, in my home the atmosphere was different. My uncle, who lived and worked for the benefit of Israel for several years, was our unbiased source of information about the country. This uncle returned to Israel after a few years in Sweden and now lives with his family in Netanya," a coastal city in the Center District of Israel. "Therefore I chose to reside in this city as well and his house is my 'home away from home.'"

"Terror attacks made me want to become a soldier"

In 2001, during his second year in Israel, a series of terror attacks by Palestinian terrorists on civilian targets made Strumberg aspire to join the Israeli army. "After the terror attack on Israeli teenagers near the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv," in which twenty one people were killed and a hundred injured, "I couldn't just sit still and do nothing. It was then when I decided to become a soldier in the Israeli army. However, [it] was explained that in order to be a solider I need to be a resident of the country, so ever since that day obtaining a residence I.D. became my ultimate goal," he says.

"In the meantime I looked for a way to volunteer for the army and found out about Sar-El, an international organization for volunteers for Israel. Joining their program made it possible for me to serve in an army base. Though my work was quite basic at the time, I was pleased, as it was better than doing nothing. Throughout the years I got promoted and began performing choirs just like other soldiers at the base, but I always felt I could do so much more."

Strumberg's young appearance and athletic figure often led young soldiers at his army base to mistake him for a regular soldier. "Their eyebrows were raised when I admitted to them I was merely a volunteer," he says. "They could not understand my willingness to give up a life of leisure and comfort in Sweden only to serve time in an army base in Israel. Nonetheless, whenever I approached their commanders stating my wish to become a fighter, they would always offer me their help and letters of recommendation."

For six long years Strumberg volunteered in the same army base. From time to time he would go back to Sweden, work and save money so he could return to do his volunteer work in Israel. During this time he consistently applied to the Israeli Office for Interior Affairs to be recognized as a resident of Israel.

"All I could do was to keep on writing, hope and wait. However, I decided that this year would be my last in Israel if my goal was not obtained. I felt I was putting my life on hold for too long. When I finally received my resident I.D. this summer I could hardly believe my dream had finally come true," he says with a smile.

When Strumberg arrived at the recruiting center, finally as an Israeli citizen, he could not have anticipated that this time he would be rejected because of his age. However, the 27-year-old man did not take no for an answer and immediately asked to see the superior officer. Eventually his stubbornness paid off and currently he is waiting for his drafting date (hopefully this coming winter, he is told). When asked if serving side by side with soldiers 10 years younger than him would disturb him, he answers that there is no way he would find the circumstances humiliating as all he ever wished was to become a soldier and this dream would have finally come true.

The German connection

This last summer, Strumberg became a guide for a program that brings German and Israeli teens together with the purpose of giving them an opportunity to learn about each other. "Together with the group, I visited Auschwitz and it was a very emotional experience for all of us. The Israelis were taught the German anthem and vise versa. Yet I noticed that the Germans felt easier singing the Israeli anthem than their own," he recalls.

This feeling of shame is probably the driving force behind Strumberg's unconditional commitment to the State of Israel and his wish to become a soldier in its army. Only towards the end of our meeting he reveals his German origins and tells me about his late grandfather who was a Wehrmacht soldier during World War II.

"Returning to Auschwitz wearing my I.D.F. uniform will be a closure of a circle for me," he declares. "We were always ashamed to talk about this part of our history and my grandfather hardly told us about his experience in the war, only the fact that he was sent to the Russian front. I believe this is the reason for my grandmother's support in my activity in Israel and her pride in my becoming a soldier."

"I hope that my actions will set an example for Israeli teens who are wishing to escape their army service. I had to wait six years for the privilege they are willing to dismiss so easily," he declares. "This is why I enjoy training those whose aim is to join the army elite units, like myself."

While he is waiting to be drafted by the army, Strumberg has found a new challenge. "I began working with juvenile teens that serve time in a detention facility in Herzeliya. I feel all they need is simply someone to listen to their stories and show them the way to a better life," he says modestly. Indeed, perhaps Israel would be a better place with more people like Daniel Strumberg.

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