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Israeli native builds new life in U.S.
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Gil Safir, an Israeli immigrant, holds a shofar, or a ram's horn, which is used to call the faithful in Jewish religious tradition.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Gil Safir, an Israeli immigrant, visited the United States in 2007. The visit led to his decision to stay in the country.
MOLINE -- Though he was born across the globe, Gil Safir thinks of the United States as home.

The Israeli-born 28-year-old came to the U.S. in 2007 to visit his sister in Skokie.

"I liked it here so much, I decided to stay," Mr. Safir said.

He came here as a stranger to a new country, needing to learn English. From Skokie, he traveled to Moline to attend Black Hawk College in 2008.

"I heard about Black Hawk College," he said. "I looked around, and heard they had a really, really good ESL (English as a Second Language) program, one of the best in the country. I decided I wanted to go to school here."

Speaking Hebrew, he studied grammar, reading and writing at Black Hawk.

"The best way to learn a language is to move to that country," Mr. Safir said. "I think when most people get to a new country, they get scared because they don't know the language.

"Which is normal. Once you get a little bit, you know, just hearing that, speaking that, and that's all you have around you, you feel a lot more comfortable.

"One way or another, you get it. Some people, it takes longer. Some people, it takes less. Struggle -- that's what makes you better at it."

He said he remembers going to a gas station after arriving in this country and not knowing how to select the pump number.

"Drive-throughs were a struggle," he said. "They did not understand me. I had to forget about drive-throughs and just go in. I could barely understand them at first, too."

After several months, Mr. Safir said he had his first dream in English, which assured him he was learning the language, familiarizing himself with his life in the U.S.

"Everything you speak is in English," he said of the dream. "That's kind of cool."

Mr. Safir spent mandatory time in the Israeli military, working as a helicopter mechanic. He enjoys the mechanical aspect of helicopters. He owns a few helicopter models he flies as a hobby.

In 2011, he married Lesley, whom he met in 2009 through a mutual friend.

Mr. Safir has done some volunteer work in the Quad-Cities, but he hasn't settled on a career.

He might go to flying school or pursue his mechanical interests. He spent time volunteering at Washington Elementary School in Moline in its after-school program, helping tutor first- and second-graders in reading and writing.

"That was fulfilling," he said. "It was nice to see those young kids and know you contributed something to them. I was pretty weak at reading in Hebrew. I always had that bad, negative feeling about reading.

"That was one of the reasons I did this (tutor). I didn't want those young kids to have the same feeling."

Mr. Safir grew up near Tel Aviv during times of both peace and war.

"I was pretty young during the Gulf War with Saddam Hussein," he said. "I was 7 or 8. We had to run to the shelters to put the gas masks on when Iraq shot those chemical missiles."

Children, though, don't appreciate the seriousness of the moment sometimes. Mr. Safir made a game of the chaos around him. "I always liked to run to the shelter as a kid," he said. "I liked the smell of the plastic on the gas mask.

"I always liked wearing it. I was the first one to put it on."

His father defused bombs as a member of an Israeli bomb squad. He was injured in the Yom Kippur war in 1973 with Egypt, his squad getting hit by a missile.

"I remember my dad really wasn't obeying the army instructions," he said of the Gulf War. "We lived in a five-story building. He went up to the roof to see the missiles go by."

Mr. Safir said he misses his country, saying his heart is with Israel.His sister, Sivan, lives in Skokie, and another sister, Donna, is still in Israel. His parents, Ronnie and Bracha, also live in Israel.

"But, it was a good decision I made to come here," he said. "The first time I feel -- how should I say it? -- if it doesn't feel right here, I will go back.My wife knows it. She would move with me as well. She knows it's not going to happen. At least not now.

"I'm good where I am."


Israel

-- Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Lebanon.

-- Population: 7,590,758 (July 2012 estimate). No. 97 in the world.

-- Languages: Hebrew (official), Arabic (used officially for Arab minority), English (most commonly used foreign language).

Source: CIA World Factbook.


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