Every Jew who decides to make aliyah and move to the Jewish homeland has a unique story, but few are as dramatic as that of Uzi Hangadi, a 27-year-old who just this week made aliyah from San Diego, California.
Hangadi, who made aliyah with the assistance of Nefesh B'Nefesh, arrived at the IDF recruitment office to join an elite combat unit on Monday, and in doing so fulfilled the promise to make aliyah and defend Israel's image in the world – a promise he made to his father just hours before he died of cancer.
After his parents divorced, Hangadi's father returned to Israel and started a new family, while his mother remained with him in Los Angeles. Hangadi's father urged him to enlist in the IDF and defend Israel, but he could not leave his mother who was suffering from ALS.
However, Hangadi's mother wasn't the only one battling a lethal disease – his father was fighting cancer and keeping it secret from him.
At the tender age of 19, Hangadi received a sudden phone call from his uncle urging him to rush to Israel to say goodbye to his father, whose condition had rapidly worsened.
He managed to make it to the hospital in time, and promised his father that he would make aliyah and join the IDF just hours before his father passed. The hardships didn't stop there – just six months later Hangadi's mother also passed away from her disease, leaving him an orphan.
At that time he decided to fulfill his promise to his father and realize his dream of moving to Israel, but before doing so he completed his studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).
At university, Hangadi worked to improve Israel's image, holding lectures and workshops for those lacking knowledge regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
His pro-Israeli work made him a target, as he recalls being attacked by pro-Palestinian activists and receiving death threats on Facebook and in person. He suffered anti-Semitics curses, threats, physical attacks and had personal property destroyed by the assailants.
Hangadi relates how the harassment got so bad that he often felt in danger, as if he was being followed. The more he advocated for Israel, the more the threats against him grew.
UCLA has hit headlines in recent months over a surge of anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish students, including a shocking case in which a Jewish student was interrogated about her "Jewishness" as she stood for student council.
In Israel Hangadi hopes to continue his struggle for the Jewish state, first through his army service and later by working to improve Israel's international image.
"Uzi's story portrays a moving story of a young man, who despite so many personal challenges, not only chose to fulfill an intimate promise to his father but to also fight for the realization of the Zionist dream, and became an Israeli who is dedicating his life to his people and his country," said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B'Nefesh.