Son of a preacher man

A 29-year-old Swedish Pentecostal Christian who fought for residency status is now a Golani soldier.

By PAUL WIDEN
February 5, 2009 10:22
Son of a preacher man

Fredrik 88 248. (photo credit: Paul Widen )

 
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'Fredrik" recently finished basic training in the 51st Battalion of the Golani Brigade. Together with thousands of other soldiers, he is waiting on a base a few miles from Gaza, ready to be deployed in case the cease-fire collapses. The only difference is that he is not an Israeli citizen, or even Jewish. He is a 29-year-old Swedish Pentecostal Christian. Fredrik came here for the first time nine years ago as a tourist. "It was love at first sight. I stepped out of the airplane, looked around and felt that this was a country I could die for." He returned to his small Swedish hometown, where his father serves as a pastor in the local Pentecostal church. "I always commit 100 percent to things that I do and I felt strongly that this is where God wanted me to be," he explains, so he wrapped up his own career as a youth pastor and moved here. The love he felt for the land was uncompromising. Soon after his arrival, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up along with 21 young people in a discotheque in Tel Aviv. "Suddenly I realized that not everybody is nice," Fredrik says with a touch of irony. "When I was called up to do army service in Sweden, I had refused to carry a gun." After having experienced terrorism up close, he stopped being a pacifist. "I realized that there are situations when one needs to use weapons to defend oneself." That insight led him to an IDF conscription office in the summer of 2001, where he explained that he wanted to join the IDF. He received a resounding no for an answer, since he was not a citizen, nor Jewish. He was not even a legal resident, only a tourist. "That was when I first heard of Sar-El, an IDF volunteer program. You essentially become a jobnik." Between 2002 and 2005 Fredrik spent a total of a year and a half as a Sar-El volunteer, mostly as a tank mechanic. The rest of the time he worked odd jobs in Sweden to support himself in Israel. "Finally, after endless petitions, I got temporary residency." He immediately went back to the conscription office, but was told that he needed permanent residency to be eligible for the IDF. Fredrik worked odd jobs here for more than two years, doing everything in his power to make his dream come true. "When it was time to renew my residency, I felt that it was now or never. I wrote to everybody I knew and used all the contacts that I had made in Sar-El." And finally, in the summer of 2007, he was granted permanent residency. "As soon as I had received my blue identity card, I walked straight from the Interior Ministry to the IDF conscription office." All those years of persistence finally paid off and Fredrik was admitted to Golani, the brigade he had aimed for all along. In March he started training. The enthusiasm with which he was greeted can be gleaned from the fact that he was handpicked from the 51st Infantry Battalion for the Egoz Reconnaissance Unit, the elite of the elite. "He possesses some very rare qualities," says one of the soldiers who went through basic training with him. "Any officer would do anything to have a soldier like that in his unit, someone who gives everything and never complains." Fredrik received his beret in Egoz and trained with them for a few months before Intelligence stepped in, curbed the enthusiasm and bumped him back down to the 51st. Fredrik is very humble about his feat. He just followed his conviction and doesn't expect a special prize for it, but part of his motivation is to inspire people in Israel. He feels rewarded when he sees that reaction in people. "When Israelis hear my story they say, 'Kol hakavod [Good for you].' I want to be a source of inspiration for them and make them realize that they are not alone in the fight against terrorism," he explains. The situation in Sweden is obviously very different. The antiwar demonstrations during Operation Cast Lead on several occasions erupted into violent attacks on anything associated with Israel. Out of concern for the safety of his family in Sweden, he does not want to reveal his real name or show his face on pictures in this article. "In Sweden there are some people that think that I am a fanatic, that I came here to kill Arabs, which is absolutely untrue." He doesn't want to discuss politics or the country's future borders. "That's not for me to decide. I just believe that God wants the State of Israel to exist, and I am here to protect its existence." God is ever present when Fredrik explains what motivated him to leave Sweden and move to Israel. "God placed a love for this country in my heart and I want to spread that love. I want to express it in a practical way. That love is my purpose." He explains it as if it were a very simple thing. He has always been completely honest about his Christian faith and says that it has never caused any problems or conflicts with his fellow soldiers. "I feel especially close to the religious Jews in my unit. They say that I have an interesting relationship with God," he says with a smile. "I think we challenge and inspire each other. They know a lot of Talmud, while I know more Bible. It triggers them to learn more, and their knowledge triggers me to learn more, but at the same time I respect their faith completely and they respect my faith completely. We are not trying to change each other. And there is a lot we have in common. On Saturday evening when the guys gather to sing as Shabbat departs, I sing with them. We sing to God together, we sing our hearts out. I feel the Holy Spirit so strongly when I join them." Fredrik suddenly stops himself. "Listen to me," he says and shakes his head. "I keep saying 'them' all the time, not 'us.'" I ask him how long he thinks he will keep doing that. "Probably as long as I live," he says, and for the first time I detect a certain sadness in his voice. "I will never completely be a part of this society and I don't expect to be. I don't say hayinu on Pessah: I was never a slave in Egypt." He shrugs his shoulders, at a loss for words. I don't blame him, because how can one ever explain a love that doesn't ask for anything in return? Paul Widen is a Swedish freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. paul.a.widen@gmail.com.

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