Local teen heeds a call to Israel

18-year-old plans to leave next week to join that country's army

August 14, 2006|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

Daniel Taylor already was planning to join the Israeli army. Rocket attacks by Hezbollah over the past month, the Baltimore teenager says, have only confirmed his decision.

"The timing worked out perfectly," the 18-year-old Taylor said yesterday. "They need all the help they can get right now, and what better way to help a country that I love?"

Taylor has never been to Israel, and speaks little Hebrew. He has never lived away from home, and was too young to remember the last time he was on a plane - a transatlantic flight when he was 2.

But a week from today, Taylor expects to leave for Jerusalem, where he plans to join the Israel Defense Forces. Having taken classes in marksmanship with the local 4-H, he says, he is hoping to become a sniper.

"I've asked for an active position, as opposed to sitting behind a desk, working on a computer," he said. "If I'm needed, absolutely, I'm a gamer, and there's a certain thrill involved in action and risk. I enjoy that."

Yesterday - a day when Israel weathered the heaviest barrage of rockets since fighting with Hezbollah began a month ago, and Israeli planes blasted Beirut on the eve of a cease-fire - family and friends met at the Northwest Baltimore home of Paul and Penina Taylor to send their son off with a backyard barbecue.

The family - Daniel is the eldest of four children - plans to emigrate to Israel this year.

"They very clearly got the call," said Rabbi Elan Adler, spiritual leader of the Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation, who attended the gathering.

"I give the family credit," said Adler, who was in Israel last month when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, triggering the hostilities that have killed more than 900 people. "It's a big morale booster, not only for Israel, but for Jews around the world, to see people actively casting their lot with the country in a very intimate way."

Paul Taylor, a database administrator who served five years in the Air Force, said he is proud of his son.

"He feels it's the right thing to do, and I do, too," he said. "As a father, it brings nachas - it brings great pleasure - to see him making good choices for the right reasons."

Solidly built at 6 feet 5 inches tall, Daniel Taylor wears a yarmulke on his head and the beginnings of a beard on his chin. Tzitzit, tassles from the tallit katan prayer shawl, hang out from under his shirt. The Taylors belong to Congregation Tiferes Yisroel, an Orthodox synagogue near their home. Since finishing his home schooling last year, Daniel has worked in Web development for the Genesis Project, a local organization that maintains the Jewish education Web site Torah.org.

He says he always felt an affinity for Israel - and a sense of duty toward the Jewish state.

"As a Jew, there's a certain automatic connection that you feel," he said. "I would say it's something on the supernatural level."

Taylor, who turned 18 in June, has contacted Mahal2000, an organization that has helped more than 1,000 Jews from more than 40 countries outside Israel join the Israel Defense Forces since 1988. He plans to study Hebrew in an eight-week immersion program before beginning his military training. He expects to sign up for a 14 1/2 -month tour.

Taylor's sister, 16-year-old Rachel, joked that she and Daniel are twins born 20 months apart.

"I know it's going to be hard, because the longest I've ever been away from him was a week, for camp," she said.

Penina Taylor, an educational consultant with Jews for Judaism, said she would be praying for her son every day.

"I wouldn't be a Mom if I weren't concerned," she said. "But I firmly believe that if it's time for God to call you back to him, it's time, whether it's at war in Lebanon or crossing the street in Baltimore."

The family plans to make Aliyah - literally, "going up," or emigrating to Israel - in December. Penina Taylor's parents already have settled in Kochav Yaakov, a quiet community north of Jerusalem that has been out of range of Hezbollah's rockets. Paul and Penina Taylor plan to join them there.

"I'm looking forward to participating and being part of the land that I believe God gave to the Jewish people," Penina Taylor said.

Daniel Taylor, who has been following the news from Israel, was looking forward to getting there.

"To be completely honest, I am a little bit frightened," he said. "But the excitement outweighs the fear. ... If there's any chance I can help, I'll take it."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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