From the Amazon to the IDF

“My home community, Bnei Akiva and my family were the foundations of my life, the basis of my decision to come and stay, to know that here is where I can do what I must,” said Fernando Larrat Miranda

FERNANDO LARRAT MIRANDA (second left) with his young brother David, Kfir company commander Rubi Gorgi, his father Colonel Fernando, and his mother Michele at his combat ceremony. (photo credit: Courtesy)
FERNANDO LARRAT MIRANDA (second left) with his young brother David, Kfir company commander Rubi Gorgi, his father Colonel Fernando, and his mother Michele at his combat ceremony.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘While living in Brazil, I knew that it was not where I was supposed to be,” said 23-year-old IDF soldier Fernando Larrat Miranda. “I was dependent on my family like a little boy. I had the constant feeling that I could do more, that I could be more.”
Every immigrant has his particular story about what motivated him or her to move to Israel. Each one has followed a different dream. Making aliyah, however, can be one of the most difficult, yet defining experiences of one’s life.
Since Israel’s establishment, around 15,000 Brazilians have made aliyah. They are spread around the country, since strong Brazilian communities are less prevalent than those of other nationalities. In Israel, there is only one organization, Yeshiva Shaarei Dat that is exclusively attended by Brazilian olim. The low number of Portuguese speakers and the modest Brazilian community make it even more difficult for Brazilian immigrants to find their place in Israeli society.
That was the situation in which Fernando found himself in after making aliyah. Although familiar with Israeli culture – Fernando visited Israel with Birthright and later studied at Yeshiva Shaarei Dat in Jerusalem for nine months – following his arrival, he still felt unsettled. Rethinking his decision of leaving his family and comfort zone to pursue this dream almost made Fernando give up and return home.
“I felt lonely, lost, desperate even,” said Fernando. “I’d left everything behind – family, university, my country my house, my car – in order to pursue a dream, and I was depressed.”
This was a period of contemplation for Fernando; a period when he seriously asked himself what had brought him to Israel. Back home, his parents were worried. In Israel, his few friends, busy with their own lives, tried to lend him support, but Fernando knew that the tough work of building a life in a new country was up to him alone.
Fernando headed to an IDF recruiting center. In the following week, he flew to Brazil to visit his family with his recruitment papers ready and his life about to take a different turn.
Army family
A year later, it was his family’s turn to board a plane to attend Fernando’s combat unit’s beret ceremony. In the quiet hours before Shabbat in the center of Jerusalem, the Larrat Miranda family, in their visit to the Holy city, emotionally talked about what it meant to see their son, on the other side of the world, become an IDF combat soldier.
Fernando serves in the Kfir Brigade, the youngest and largest infantry brigade of the IDF. Its recruits complete eight months of combat training – the first fours months are dedicated to basic training and later to advanced training in urban warfare, advanced weaponry, chemical warfare, among other military techniques needs in the battlefield .
“The happiest day of a parent’s life is the birth of his child,” said Fernando’s father, Fernanado Correa Miranda, who is a colonel of a Brazilian firefighter unit. “In his army ceremony, though, it came close to it – the happiness I felt, how proud I was of the arduous job he had pursued in the last year.”
The father knew from his own personal experience what it meant, having both lived abroad, away from his family, and becoming a colonel at the Military Firefighters’ Corps in Brazil.
“His tenacity and perseverance are impressive,” his father said. “And that’s all I heard from his fellow soldiers and commanders during the ceremony.”
Brazil’s Military Firefight Corps is part of the National Public Security and Social Defense System. Organized to serve as combat engineers when needed, they perform a variety of military engineering duties and are also trained to serve as infantry personnel in defensive and offensive operations. Colonel Fernando built a career at the Military Firefighters’ corps, based in the city of Belem, in northern Brazil, and was awarded seven medals of merit during the course of his career.
Belem and the Amazonian Jewish community
Belem, which is “Bethlehem” in Portuguese, is the home of the Larrat family. Located at the mouth of the Amazon River in the northern state of Para, the city is marked by colonial architecture and a busy port. It is home to over two million inhabitants and surrounded by the world’s biggest rainforest. Belem is also home to a significant number of immigrants who mark Brazil’s history, such as Portuguese, Lebanese and Syrians, among others.
Originally from Morocco, the Larrat family is part of the Jewish community of Belem, along with 500 other families, under Rabbi Disraeli Zagury of Beit Chabad Belem. The religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva is an integral part of Belem’s Jewish community. Known as Amazonian Jews, the community in Belem tends to retain a strong Sephardi identity due to their geographical isolation from Brazil’s remaining Jewish communities, mainly in the southeastern cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
“My home community, Bnei Akiva and my family were the foundations of my life, the basis of my decision to come and stay, to know that here is where I can do what I must,” Fernando said.
From the Amazon to the Middle East
“When I lived abroad, it was a true challenge,” said Colonel Fernando, his father. “I knew that I would come out stronger from the experience. Nonetheless, it was difficult to deal with the loneliness and longing. To see my son doing both – abroad and in the army service – it is moving.”
“I’m a lone soldier but now I’m not lonely,’ Fernando rushed to say. Then he turned to his parents and explained the meaning of the word chayal boded (lone soldier), which could also give the connotation of a “lonely” soldier. “I was lonely, but the friendships I made in my unit and the warmth of my home at the Habayit shel Benji changed everything for me. With their support, I understood that I could do it.”
Habayit shel Benji, located in Ra’anana, accommodates 75 IDF combat lone soldiers, ultra-Orthodox soldiers who were disowned by their families, as well as those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
The home was founded in the memory of Maj. Benji Hillman, a native of London, who became a company commander in the Golani Brigade’s Egoz commando unit. Hillman was killed in 2006, at the beginning of the Second Lebanon War. Founded and operating under the supervision of Saul Rurka, Hillman’s first cousin, it offers accommodation, meals, Internet, cable TV, laundry and a homely atmosphere for combat soldiers to return to from their army bases.
“Over there I have great conditions.“ Fernando said. “I come back from the base and I don’t need to worry about my meals or doing laundry, for example. But more than everything, in Habayit shel Benji I have a home. The place and Saul, who is [amazing] – I can’t even describe the support he gives us. He’s a friend, a father and a teacher.”
“Since he was tiny, a little boy,” his mother said, overwhelmed by emotions, “he used to tell me ‘I want to defend Israel.’ And he is doing exactly that.”