From the chuppah to Gaza

Two days after walking down aisle, American oleh finds himself in war.

yosef gerstein 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yosef gerstein 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yosef Gerstein was already wearing his suit and tie. His family had flown in from Florida and he was only minutes away from walking down the aisle to his wife-to-be when he got a call from the IDF. "We're calling up your reserve unit," the voice on the other end of the phone told the 24-year-old Gerstein, who made aliya in 2004. It was a Thursday night, five days into the IDF's ground offensive in the Gaza Strip and Gerstein was ordered to report to reserve duty the following Sunday so his unit could replace regular-service forces that were being dispatched to the Gaza front. Gerstein was discharged from the army in 2007 after completing a two-and-a-half-year service in the IDF's 7th Armored Brigade as a tanker. The stint in the IDF, though, wasn't Gerstein's first experience in the military. A self-described secular Jew from Pembroke Pines, Florida, Gerstein went to an ROTC (Reserves Officer Training School) high school and even served in the US tank corps training on Abrams A1 tanks. But after four months in the military, Gerstein decided to make aliya and went from serving on Abrams Tanks to Israel's Merkava. "As I was in the army, I saw what America really was. As an American you can feel proud, but as a Jew I was looked at different and I wanted to find out why that was," he said. "So I came to the right place to learn about this since I knew that Israel is the best place to experience Judaism." His wife, he said, was sad to see him go off the reserve duty just two days after their wedding but was also "supportive and happy." Even though he probably could have talked his way out of the service, Gerstein said the thought never crossed his mind. "As an Israeli citizen, it's my obligation. Everyone has to sacrifice something of themselves and their lives, and who's to say that I am any different," he said.