An athletic teen from Oahu left his Hawaiian tropical paradise – and his fellow paddlers – to seek his fortune in the land of his father’s birth.
By Rivka Borochov
The local Jewish community into which he was born and raised numbers about 5,000 souls. You could say they live in paradise on the island of Oahu, in the district of Honolulu. That’s probably why most Jews who’ve landed there tend not to leave. Many are active members of the Temple Emanu-El synagogue.
But 19-year-old Barak Argov, an expert paddle surfer, had different designs for his future. Although he’s blind in one eye from a dart accident at age six, the handsome water sports enthusiast decided to make aliyah – emigrate to Israel – and join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He’s currently working on a kibbutz and studying Hebrew to prepare for his expected induction next November.
Of the approximately 7,000 Jews residing on the Hawaiian islands, only a handful has made aliyah. Barak, whose Israeli father is a past member of the IDF’s paratrooper unit, is among the exceptions. He made the journey alone after graduating from the Kalaheo High School because, he says, "I wanted to learn Hebrew, join the army, learn new skill sets and make new friends along the way."
‘Lightning’ lands in Israel
Barak, whose name means lightning in Hebrew, arrived in Israel on December 21 last year aboard a flight sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps smooth the immigration process for North American and UK citizens. He has his ambitions set on joining a specialist training unit that works with dogs in the IDF.
For Barak, the choice was a no-brainer. "Being Jewish and the son of an ex-Israeli, I feel obligated to serve in the army," he says.
Until then, Barak is brushing up on his Hebrew at an intensive ulpan (Hebrew language program) at Kibbutz Yagul near Haifa. The kibbutz runs a successful wedding hall, and Barak is earning his keep by helping to maintain its decorative gardens and grounds.
Serving Israel an imperative
Back home in Hawaii, he attended services at Temple Emanu-El, kept the Friday night Shabbat dinner tradition with his family and observed the Jewish holidays. "We have an active synagogue," he says. "We did neat things in the community," despite its small size.
Barak traces his roots to various different European countries and has no clear tradition of either Ashkenazi or Sephardi Jewish heritage. His mom is from Nebraska, and he’s been to Israel several times visiting his dad’s Israeli family. One particularly meaningful trip was made for his bar mitzvah, where he was joined by his grandparents from Tel Aviv and relatives from the North.
Though he expresses an understanding of why few people choose to leave the Hawaiian paradise, for him serving Israel was an imperative – though he misses his family in Hawaii, of course.
Barak is a keen paddler. Also known as "beach boy surfing," paddle surfing originated in Hawaii and is performed standing up on a long board, holding a one-bladed paddle. "It’s more of a local thing which you can also find in Australia and New Zealand," he says.
He has yet to identify a paddle-surfing community In Israel, but give him time. He only just arrived.