By Lilach Shoval
“I am a Zionist,” Staff Sgt. Asaf Stein said after receiving the 2015 Bonei Zion Award from Nefesh B’Nefesh at a special ceremony in the Knesset building on Tuesday.
Staff Sgt. Asaf Stein, Ph.D., holds his IDF and National Service Young Leadership award from Nefesh B’Nefesh – Photo: Dudi Vaaknin
Stein, who served in the Golani Infantry Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion and is called “Dr. Golani” by his friends (because of his Ph.D.), was given the IDF and National Service Young Leadership award. Every year Nefesh B’Nefesh awards new immigrants from English-speaking countries prizes for outstanding contributions to the state.
Stein came to Israel from Alabama in 2012 at the age of 28. “I fought to get drafted, because [the military] did not want me to enlist,” he said. “I told them I would not give up, and in the end I succeeded.”
On average 10 years older than his peers in the IDF, Stein tried out for and was selected to become part of the Golani Infantry Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion. “It was challenging, everyone was younger than me. But in the army everyone is the same, and they did not look at me any differently,” he said.
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Operation Protective Edge erupted as Stein was visiting his family in the U.S. over the summer. “I got back to Israel a few days before the launch of the ground campaign. I went in with my team, with everyone, to Shujaiyya,” he said. Shujaiyya, a neighborhood in Gaza, was the scene to some of the heaviest fighting during the operation, and Stein was among the soldiers who evacuated Golani’s wounded brigade commander.
Stein completed his military service a few weeks ago and now intends to make aliyah and live in Israel. “This is our land. It took me a long time to realize how special it is to be part of that,” he said.
Among the other recipients on Tuesday were the head of Hadassah Medical Organization’s Intensive Care Unit Professor Charles Sprung for his contribution to science and medicine, and Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber for his work with the ITIM organization, which helps Israelis navigate the bureaucracy involved in dealing with the state’s religious services.