Lone Soldiers: A scientist and a gentleman

Elia Victorov, 29, from St. Petersburg, Russia.

elia victorov 311 (photo credit: Yaakov Katz)
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 arrivedhere for the first time not as a tourist but as a new immigrant. Hecame with his 93-year-old grandfather, a former soldier in the Red Armywho fought in the armored division that conquered Berlin in World WarII.
When asked why he decided to move here, Victorov does not provide anordinary answer. He didn’t know Hebrew; he was not raised in aparticularly Zionist or religious home and had never even visited. But,he says, his love for the state was embedded within him from just beingJewish.
“There are two different ways how to become a Zionist,” he says in hisheavily-accented but confidently-spoken Hebrew. “One way is by talkingabout Israel all the time, learning about Israel and visiting Israel.The other way, which is how I became a Zionist, is by just beingJewish, knowing other Jews and being around them.”
His desire to come started as a child when he remembers hearing andwatching about the Jewish state and its security problems on the radioand on television. He always dreamed of moving and read up, when hecould get his hands on appropriate books, on the country’s history. Hewas particularly drawn in by the story of Golda Meir, the only femaleprime minister.
“I saw something special in the fact that a woman can be a primeminister,” he says. “She was a strong woman and I had a lot of respectfor her.”
While he encountered a degree of anti-Semitism in school, Victorov saysthat he didn’t move here to run away from life in St. Petersburg. Hisparents were also not thrilled with his decision to move and serve inthe 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 toulpan to study Hebrew, but after several months of not hearing from theIDF he decided to go down to the Jerusalem Induction Center to find outwhy he wasn’t getting call-up orders.
“They told me I didn’t have to do military service since I was already27 years old,” he recalls. “I told them that I didn’t care and that Iwanted to serve in the army since I believe that it is important for meto do and for the country.”
Aware that he could probably use his advanced biophysics degree to geta desk job as a scientist in the IDF, he wanted to serve as a combatsoldier like his grandfather. He first tried out for the eliteundercover Duvdevan unit which carries out complicated arrestoperations in Palestinian towns and villages, but did not pass. He thentold the army that he wanted to serve in the Kfir Brigade, responsiblefor most military operations in the West Bank.
“I asked for a combat unit since I wanted to feel the country more andto contribute more. To give more and get more,” he explains.
He laughs when telling how some of the soldiers in his unit make fun ofhis age, but notes that all of them show him respect and understandthat 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 morerespect but I am treated like every other soldier without anydiscounts. I do everything that the other soldiers do and sometimes, ifI can, even a little more.”