By REBECCA BASKIN
When the soldiers of the Kfir Brigade's Lavi Battalion officially finished their training recently, they could all look back proudly on a year of shared challenges and experiences. One soldier among them, however, came from a much different background, one that makes him look at the days of hard work and sleepless nights with a different perspective.
For Artium Novick, 22, the day he joined the IDF was not the first time he had donned an army uniform. He arrived in 2007 having already served in the Belarussian army. Though his time here hasn't always been easy - he has had to face the hardships of being a new immigrant and a lone soldier on top of the rigors of training - Novick is happy with his experience so far and looks forward to what's still to come.
Novick and his brother Marik, 21, were raised by their grandmother after their mother died. It was then that the two formed the close relationship that continues to impact them to this day. "Our grandmother raised us. My brother and I studied together in school and in college, and worked together in the same factory." Then, Novick made a fateful choice - he decided to join the army.
"I was there for four months," he explains. "I was in a paratrooper unit. There, I went through everything that you go through in basic training, including a couple parachute jumps. The first one is the most exciting."
Though he left the army after four months for health reasons, this provided the impetus for him to make aliya. He wanted to be in a different army, he says. Before he could do that, however, there was a major challenge to overcome: learning Hebrew.
Novick's word-perfect Hebrew is the product of more than a year of hard work."I learned Hebrew in a kibbutz ulpan on Mishmar Ha'emek. I stayed for a year, and did two ulpanim in a row," he says.
His studies continued once he got to the army. "I went to the army and did another ulpan, at Michve Alon [an IDF base near Safed specializing in educational programs], and then asked to go to the Kfir Brigade."
He speaks about his brigade and his battalion, Lavi, with obvious pride. "Lavi is the newest unit, but people who think that Lavi isn't strong don't know what they're talking about... I talk to friends from my ulpan who are in other units, and we all did the same things, the same training... and we did it better. They even say so."
Novick is very positive about his experience thus far, but says that it wasn't always easy. "I've learned a lot of new things and made a lot of new friends. It was strange here... people are much more open here than there. It was problematic for me at the beginning... it was hard to leave my friends. I call every month, and tell them all about my life here."
About the army, he says that he's "really enjoyed it so far. We really learn how to be warriors. We did all sorts of exercises and training. We really worked.
"Yes, it's hard, you don't sleep, but you're always doing something. It's really interesting. This is exactly what I wanted... not just to guard. Sometimes it's hard, but it's always temporary."
According to him, his time in the IDF has been a sharp contrast to his past army experience. "Here, they really care about you. You work hard, but they always give you what you need. There, they break you. They don't give you what you need to live in a good way... Here, they really are concerned with the well-being of the soldiers."
But he says his time in the Belarussian army gave him a leg-up when he first joined the IDF. "It gave me a big bonus at the beginning. It made it much easier."
Another thing that has made his time here and in the IDF easier is his close relationship with his brother. The two serve in the same unit, and live together in Tel Aviv.
"I got here first and he arrived four months after me. He was with me on the same kibbutz," explains Novick. "We were also like this as children, we did everything together. We asked to be put in the same unit. We're together all the time, like two shoes. We can't get by without each other."
Novick will soon be starting an officers training course. A recent encounter helped to show him how far he has come. "Just now, I was on the basic training base, and I saw the new soldiers that were drafted in August," he says. "They're still under strict discipline, working on fitness... it was strange to see that. It feels so far away."
The road he has followed to get to the end of training may be longer and more winding than that of most soldiers, but Artium Novick has good reason to look back at his past, and toward his future, with pride.
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