IDF Captain Moti Kaminstein has quite a unique life story, and now he can add another proud feather to his hat: the first homegrown commander of the ultra-Orthodox company of the Paratroopers Brigade.
The 24-year-old was born in Ukraine where he spent most of his childhood with his parents who were serving as Chabad emissaries. He now resides in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa.
He made Aliyah at the age of 14 and joined a Chabad yeshiva.
"I came to Israel to study in a Chabad yeshiva. In Ukraine, there were no such yeshivot," Kaminstein said.
"I studied in the yeshiva until I was 19, and then I decided to enlist in the IDF. When I first came to Israel, it wasn't even planned, but as I grew older, I realized it was an important thing to do, and it didn't collide with the values I grew up with, on the contrary."
Hetz Haredi was established in 2016 to allow members of Israel's sizeable ultra-Orthodox population to serve in the military while maintaining a Torah-observant lifestyle.
"Before I enlisted in the IDF, I had no idea what it was like serving in the military. None of my friends or the people close to me enlisted," Keminstein said.
"I wanted to make sure my transition from the yeshiva to the military won't be too intense, so Hetz suited me. On the one hand, it's the paratroopers, a brigade with a glorious legacy; and on the other hand, I was able to maintain my religious lifestyle. This company is very unique, it feels like family. Everybody here wanted to enlist in the IDF despite being exempt from service. All of us also come from the same social and cultural background, and that amazes me."
Kaminstein quickly proved himself an outstanding soldier all the way to officer training. Now he receives the honorable appointment and returns home.
"It's crazy," he says, "I can't describe it. I wasn't planning on getting that role. It feels like I reached the top. My greatest ambition is to push the company to the highest achievements I can."
Although he chose to walk down an unusual path for a young Haredi man, his family supports him completely.
"My family is very supportive. They backed me when I enlisted and when I continued to officer training. They even pushed me to do it. Even people in my environment realize that the IDF is not what they thought it is. When I joined the military, my yeshiva said I was looking for a way out. But over time, they saw it wasn't true. My service is all about values, I'm on a mission, and they appreciate that very much."
Kaminstein, who has lived in Israel by himself for the past decade, was reunited with his family several months ago when they returned to Israel fleeing the war in Ukraine. "They're still settling in Israel," he says.
When asked how it felt to see his childhood home razed to the ground by Russian bombardment, he said: "There's no doubt that the images are difficult, and it hurts, but I don't feel it is my home. Israel is my home, and I am defending it."