Even Private Y.'s platoon comrades don't know that a year and a half ago, the 19-year-old Givati soldier was hiding his Judaism from al-Qaeda's reign of terror in Yemen.
Private Y., who was born and raised in a suburb of Yemeni capital Sana'a, is one of 13 children. He started receiving Jewish education at a very young age, attending a kindergarten and later schools of the Jewish community in his area, wearing a kippa and growing long payot.
Five years ago, however, al-Qaeda took over Yemen and the lives of the Jews in the country changed completely.
"We learned Gemara, Mishna, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and Rashi, alongside reading and writing in Arabic," Private Y. says.
"Jews had a good life in Yemen until five years ago, when al-Qaeda arrived and everything changed," he explains. "I was 14 when one of the most grave incidents I can remember happened. My teacher at school, Moshe Nahari, was murdered by an Arab. He was a teacher I really loved. The story was that the Arab demanded Moshe to convert to Islam, and when he refused the Arab murdered him. It really shocked the community. The Jews were afraid their children will also be murdered on their way to or from school, and to protect the children they decided to close the school."
According to Private Y., things only got worse for Jews in the country. "The Jews were terrorized, they stopped feeling safe. We lived in fear the entire time," he says. "Al-Qaeda threatened to kill anyone who is not a Muslim. I stayed at home all the time out of fear. I barely went outside."
With the help of Jewish groups, Y.'s family started planning their escape from Yemen. They finally arrived in Israel through a third country.
"I always knew the land of Israel is my home," Y. says. "It was my dream to make aliyah to Israel. When we landed here, I kissed the ground. It was a great joy. Salvation. I felt like I was in paradise. All of a sudden I could go outside with a kippa on my head without being afraid I'd be murdered. It's really a miracle that we managed to escape there. Today I'm happy to be a combat soldier in Givati."
Private Y., who received a lone soldier's status from the army, lives in a religious kibbutz in southern Israel. Lt.-Col. (ret.) Tzvika Levy, who is responsible for lone soldiers assigned to live on kibbutzim, got Private Y. an adoptive family at the kibbutz.
"When I heard his life story I had Goosebumps," Levy says. "He told me how he removed his payot out of fear for his life, because the Jews were in mortal peril on a daily basis, and how he dreamed of the Land of Israel from a young age.
"He's a devout young man who made aliyah out of Zionist reasons and chose to live in a religious kibbutz. He asked to serve in Givati and is now training with the Brigade."