When you meet Staff Sergeant Ivan Brown, he blends in with his fellow soldiers. Listen closer and you’ll notice he pronounces his ‘R’ a bit differently. Listen some more and you’ll discover he stands out quite a bit from the soldiers around him. Staff Sgt. Brown’s hometown is Athens, Greece and he only made Israel his home four years ago. That’s not to say he didn’t already have a connection to the country he now calls home. Having an Israeli father meant his family regularly visited Israel for the holidays, plus he spoke Hebrew at home, even with his Greek mother. Still, it was not an automatic decision to move to Israel or to join the army.
Up until recently, he was a firm mainstay of the Athens Jewish community, participating in youth groups, summer camps and leading trips of young Greek Jews to Israel. However, in recent years, he saw there would not be a future for himself as a leader in the community. That’s when he decided to finally come to Israel for more than just a vacation. He started out at the International Disciplinary Center in Herzliya where he completed his Bachelors degree in government with a specialization in counter-terrorism and homeland security. “I said I was coming to Israel just to study, but even more than that, I wanted to come here out of love for my homeland and my aspiration to one day live in Israel,” he says.
A natural leader, Staff Sgt. Brown realized that the best way to be a good influence to those who looked up to him was to draft into the Israel Defense Forces. Becoming a soldier in the IDF meant following in the footsteps of his own family. Staff Sgt. Brown’s father is an IDF veteran who fought in the First Lebanon War. His grandfather fought in the Palmach, the elite fighting force of Israel’s pre-state defense forces and helped free Jerusalem. He drafted in December 2012 and is currently training to become an officer for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) where he will be an advisor on Palestinian affairs.
Is it hard for Staff Sgt. Brown, an only child, to be far away from his parents? Yes, but the sense of community and spirituality here in Israel goes beyond any homesickness, he says. Staff Sgt. Brown also sees many similarities between Greek and Israeli culture. “People are very open and smile a lot. The music is similar and both places are very hot,” he says. He dreams of one day being the Israeli Ambassador to Greece, though for the near future,he is not planning to move back. “Before, everything about Israel was theory, ideology, the stuff of books. Here it’s real.”
This article has been reprinted with the permission of the IDF Blog.