In the middle of the fighting in Ayta Shab in Lebanon, Sgt. Yehuda Werdesheim noticed his hand was wet.
"I didn't know what it was. I looked down and realized it was all blood," said the 21-year-old paratrooper who made aliya from Milwaukee, Wisconsin two years ago.
A medic bandaged him up and told him to wait in a protected room, but Werdesheim jumped up right away and rejoined the battle. When the helicopters came that night to take away the dead and wounded, he refused to go with them.
"Nobody's taking me from this. I've come too far," he told them. "I'm a new immigrant. I can't leave."
Werdesheim, who left with the rest of his unit four days later and eventually got the offending bullet dug out of his arm, told his story to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday at a reception for immigrant soldiers.
Olmert received groups throughout the day at the succa built in the backyard of his official residence in Jerusalem. To the group of soldiers, who came from countries including Russia, Argentina, Australia and France, as well as the United States, he said, "There's no future for Israel without aliya. Aliya is the basis of our existence."
He declared that there was "no other country in the world" where young adults from places like Los Angeles and Moscow and Kiev "come and fight for its security and existence."
He added, "There's only one place in the world where Jews can fight for their survival, and that's here."
Still, Olmert told the soldiers that it was important to be "honest" about the country: "There are a lot of problems here, a lot of challenges. We are threatened."
Seeing that one of the new immigrants didn't understand the last word he used, he translated it to English for him. The soldier, Benjamin Ben-Ari, 24, from Phoenix, Arizona also shared his personal story with the group, using English when he didn't know the words in Hebrew.
Ben-Ari first visited Israel on a birthright trip, then ended up taking a break from college in the US to study at the Hebrew University. A day before his ulpan began, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria next to the international school, killing nine people. Not one of the people in his program went home because they all came to Israel "knowing what they got into," he said, saying the phrase in English.
Though when he joined the army he was considered a lone soldier and he made aliya without any family members, Ben-Ari stressed, "I didn't come alone." He explained, "I have friends here. Am Yisrael [the people of Israel] was here."
Ben-Ari also served in Lebanon during the recent war, but found his experience quieter than Werdesheim's.
"I didn't get to shoot [anything]. It was really a bummer for me," he acknowledged to a good deal of laughter.
Werdesheim said he still finds himself in tense situations in Nablus, where he and his unit "are waiting for the next war."
While many of the veterans of the Lebanon war have complained about the management of the conflict and some are even calling for Olmert to resign, the prime minister got support Monday from some of the country's newest citizens.
"I still believe in the country. I still believe in the government," Werdesheim said. "The war hasn't touched my Zionism at all."
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