The life story of Mauricio Glucksman could easily become a plot for a Hollywood action movie, or at the very least a tear-jerking telenovela. In his 19 years on the planet, the young Venezuelan has endured experiences that would make field exercises and shooting ranges seem like a walk in the park.
In a ceremony at David Ben-Gurion's grave site, Glucksman stood proud in his IDF uniform, and sang Hatikva out loud along with his fellow course members.
Glucksman is one of many Jewish youngsters from around the world who came to Israel to for a two-month military training, as part of the Defense Ministry's Marva program.
As someone who was kidnapped from his parents when he was only eight and lost his father at an early age, the military training was no more than another anecdote to someday tell the grandchildren about.
Glucksman was born in Venezuela 19 years ago. At the age of eight he was kidnapped near his house, and was kept in the trunk of a car for eight hours with a sack covering his head.
After long negotiations between the kidnappers and Glucksman's parents, he was released for ransom and dropped off at a public park, where he waited to reunite with his family.
But Glucksman's harsh life story does not end here. A year later, when he was nine, he attended a protest rally against the local governmental, when suddenly shots were fired.
"We realized the guerillas were attacking the protesters," he recalled. Glucksman managed to escape unharmed, but witnessed a mass murder in which several of his acquaintances were killed.
Despite the traumatic event, Glucksman continued to attend protest rallies, and escaped guerilla attacks time and again.
'Absorb Jewish spirit'When Glucksman was 12-year-old, burglars broke into his parents' home and tied him and his family members in the living room. The burglars emptied the house and escaped, but the incident took a toll on the young Mauricio.
He was having difficulty adjusting back to reality, and his father finally decided to send him to live with his mother's family in Mexico. "Saying goodbye was not easy, but I lived with my uncles in Mexico and tried to get used to a public, non-Jewish school, unlike where I studied in Venezuela," he recalled.
But the troubles kept coming. About a year after moving to Mexico Glucksman's father passed away after receiving a wrong dosage of prescription medicine. Mauricio returned to Venezuela to support his mother and family.
"Following my father's death, my mother decided to strengthen my Jewish roots and sent me back to Mexico – this time to live with my father's family, so that I will absorb some Jewish spirit," he said.
Glucksman did strengthen his Jewish roots – so much so that he decided to join the Marva Program, which is operated by the security department at the Defense Ministry.
The aim of the program is to strengthen the bond between Israel and Jewish teens from around the world, and let them experience the basics of IDF and Israeli life.
Many of the young people who participate in the military basic training through the program later decide to make aliyah.
Learning about IDF legacyThe Marva program has been held in Israel for the past 29 years. The courses are offered four times a year and draw youngsters between the ages of 18-25 from all around the globe.
For a period of eight weeks, the participants experience basic training, visit historic sites throughout the country and learn about IDF legacy. The goal of the program – to encourage participants to make aliyah and enlist in full military service – is only partially achieved.
Thirty four percent of 141 total participants in the latest course said they intended to enlist into the IDF, while 24% expressed interest in making aliyah.
The majority of participants hailed from Mexico, while others came from England, United States, Canada, Holland, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil.
Another course was concluded recently with a ceremony at the Graves of Paula and David Ben-Gurion in Sde Boker. Dozens of excited male and female cadets marched toward the grave site, donning spick-and-span IDF uniforms.
After receiving their course pins, the cadets concluded the ceremony by singing the national anthem – each with their own accent.
The ceremony was not complete without the traditional tossing of berets in the air, followed by emotional embraces and tears of joy. "It's amazing," Glucksman mumbled, "I loved our team work, it's an incredible experience; something to definitely be proud of."
During the past two months, Glucksman fell in love with Israel. "I love the army, the history, the respect people have for their land," he said, adding that next year he decided to make aliyah.
Glucksman even knows which unit he would like to join. "Paratroopers or Golani," he said in complete confidence.
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