Yossi Bluming knew he wanted to be a soldier when he was nine years old. Growing up in Potomac, Md., near Washington D.C., with its abundance of military figures and culture, Bluming got plenty of exposure to the military. And the selfless lifestyle of the military, where you’re a part of something more than yourself, felt right to Bluming.
Now at 21-years-old, Bluming, a Staff Sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Paratroopers Brigade, was recognized as an outstanding soldier by the IDF, winning an award for performance and leadership just before Rosh Hashanah.
Bluming, who was recognized along with several other soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade and various other divisions, said he felt honored being nominated alongside other outstanding soldiers.
“I think they chose beautifully as well. The people who are with me are some of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met in the Paratroopers Brigade and obviously it’s a big honor for me to be featured up there,” Bluming said.
Bluming has made big strides to get to where he is now, after making aliyah in 2020 to enlist in the Israeli army, where he became a machine gunner in a combat unit. Since then, he’s worked his way up to his current position as a Staff Sergeant and is now second-in-command to his commanding officer, putting him in charge of over 20 other soldiers.
Initially, it was difficult for Bluming to change his lifestyle after moving to a new country where he knew little of the language and was becoming a combat soldier during that adjustment period.
“It’s like a personal shock, especially during COVID when I came over to Israel, and it’s just a nightmare… It was difficult. It was draining. I’m grateful people were there for me, there to support me throughout the process,” Bluming said.
The mentality that has allowed him to have success is to not wallow in self-pity and to realize that with a strong and focused mindset, every challenge is just another thing you can push through.
“I think that line of thinking is what has brought me to this day. Of never ever taking yourself as a victim of your circumstances, rather that you define your reality,” Bluming said.
And Bluming has certainly faced difficult circumstances. Notably, he’s a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which requires strict religious observance.
To adhere to this level of observance can lead to preconceived notions about a soldier, according to Bluming’s father, Rabbi Mendel Bluming, who serves as Rabbi and Executive Director at Chabad of Potomac alongside his wife, Rebbetzin Sara Bluming, who is a dynamic leader of the community.
“There’s a stereotype that there’s a contradiction between his observance, his being Hasidic, his beard, his tzizit, and his serving proudly as a Staff Sergeant in a combat unit of the Israel Defense Forces. And there’s a stereotype that very religious Jews stay out of that or don’t participate as much,” Rabbi Bluming said.
This typecast was something Bluming noticed when he went to enlist after arriving in Israel. The workers in the enlistment office initially assumed that Bluming was there to get an exemption from mandatory military service and were surprised when he told them he was there to join a combat unit.
“It was a pretty shocking reminder that it’s not a given to be proud of what you are, and not be afraid to venture out and do your homework and do your mission,” Bluming said.
But he believes it’s not impossible to be both very religious and an effective combat soldier. He says the main thing he realized is that there’s a lot of sacrifice inherent with living the life he chose.
Praying properly might cost him a needed hour of sleep after a long march or his beard might become highly uncomfortable while wearing a helmet out in the hot desert. But these are things he strongly believes in, so it becomes necessary to sacrifice comfort for them.
Bluming has taken his challenges as lessons over these past few years as a soldier, and it has made him realize the importance of unity and the fact that ignorance of another’s lifestyle can lead to further division.
Bluming says he tries to lead with a very humanistic approach, and he feels that helps him get a good connection with and positive response from his soldiers.
“If you’re not a human being with your guys, if you don’t see a mother’s son in uniform each morning when you come and wake them up, you’re never going to be a real leader. You’re always going be pulling them along,” Bluming said.
That level of connection and unity are important components of what makes Bluming so special and worthy of recognition.
Beyond the soldiers he commands, Bluming’s award and the example he sets are having an impact back home in the Potomac community, according to Rabbi Bluming.
“I have found that our community is very proud of him and what he’s accomplished. And that it’s bringing out from them a greater pride in the State of Israel, and in Israel’s army. A pride in there being no stereotypes and no barriers among Jews, but rather uniting our entire people in a mission of defending the Jewish people, which everyone must personally be a part of especially in our time of increasing antisemitism,” Rabbi Bluming said.