elia victorov 311.
(photo credit: Yaakov Katz)
Elia Victorov is not your ordinary infantry soldier. First, he is 29 and busy running up hills and carrying stretchers on long hikes with a bunch of 18-year-olds. Secondly, he has a doctorate in biophysics.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, to a father who is a professor of astrophysics and a mother who has an advanced degree in chemistry, it was only natural that he decided to pursue a career in the world of science. His sister did the same and has a doctorate in chemistry.
But everything changed for Victorov in November 2008, when he arrived
here for the first time not as a tourist but as a new immigrant. He
came with his 93-year-old grandfather, a former soldier in the Red Army
who fought in the armored division that conquered Berlin in World War
When asked why he decided to move here, Victorov does not provide an
ordinary answer. He didn’t know Hebrew; he was not raised in a
particularly Zionist or religious home and had never even visited. But,
he says, his love for the state was embedded within him from just being
“There are two different ways how to become a Zionist,” he says in his
heavily-accented but confidently-spoken Hebrew. “One way is by talking
about Israel all the time, learning about Israel and visiting Israel.
The other way, which is how I became a Zionist, is by just being
Jewish, knowing other Jews and being around them.”
His desire to come started as a child when he remembers hearing and
watching about the Jewish state and its security problems on the radio
and on television. He always dreamed of moving and read up, when he
could get his hands on appropriate books, on the country’s history. He
was particularly drawn in by the story of Golda Meir, the only female
“I saw something special in the fact that a woman can be a prime
minister,” he says. “She was a strong woman and I had a lot of respect
While he encountered a degree of anti-Semitism in school, Victorov says
that he didn’t move here to run away from life in St. Petersburg. His
parents were also not thrilled with his decision to move and serve in
the army, but they ultimately gave him their support.
“There are still a lot of Jews there,” he says. “Life was good. I had a job and my family. There was nothing to run away from.”
Arriving in November, 2008, the Absorption Ministry sent Victorov to
ulpan to study Hebrew, but after several months of not hearing from the
IDF he decided to go down to the Jerusalem Induction Center to find out
why he wasn’t getting call-up orders.
“They told me I didn’t have to do military service since I was already
27 years old,” he recalls. “I told them that I didn’t care and that I
wanted to serve in the army since I believe that it is important for me
to do and for the country.”
Aware that he could probably use his advanced biophysics degree to get
a desk job as a scientist in the IDF, he wanted to serve as a combat
soldier like his grandfather. He first tried out for the elite
undercover Duvdevan unit which carries out complicated arrest
operations in Palestinian towns and villages, but did not pass. He then
told the army that he wanted to serve in the Kfir Brigade, responsible
for most military operations in the West Bank.
“I asked for a combat unit since I wanted to feel the country more and
to contribute more. To give more and get more,” he explains.
He laughs when telling how some of the soldiers in his unit make fun of
his age, but notes that all of them show him respect and understand
that he is someone who did not have to serve but decided to anyhow.
“There are some people who laugh with me that what I am doing is crazy,
but they respect me and my decision,” he says. “I get a little more
respect but I am treated like every other soldier without any
discounts. I do everything that the other soldiers do and sometimes, if
I can, even a little more.”