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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 December, 2003, 00:08 GMT
Israel's first Eskimo soldier

By Raffi Berg
BBC News Online

The Israeli army has inducted into its ranks one of the most unusual recruits in its history - an Eskimo girl from Alaska.

Eva and Jimmy Ben Sira
The twins' adoption was approved by tribal elders and a rabbi
Eighteen-year-old Eva Ben Sira is training to become a squad commander in the Negev desert - a far cry from the frozen wastes of her homeland.

Eva was born to a Yupik Eskimo mother and a Cherokee American father before being adopted by an Israeli couple.

Her twin brother, Jimmy, will become the army's second serving Eskimo, when he joins the force next year.

Culture clash

The twins' remarkable journey to Israel began when their mother, Minnie, found herself unable to support Eva and Jimmy after their father walked out. Their story came to public attention in a recent article by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Alaskan social services stepped in and, at the age of two, the twins were sent to live with their grandmother, who struggled to raise the children herself.

They did ask a lot of questions when they were growing up
Dafna Ben Sira
Eva and Jimmy's mother
Their plight came to light when an Orthodox Jewish couple, Meir and Dafna Ben Sira, came to visit Minnie's neighbour - Dafna's mother - a Swiss Catholic woman, who had emigrated to Alaska from Israel in 1989.

The Ben Siras offered to adopt Eva and Jimmy, but had to overcome a welter of religious and cultural obstacles to get the adoption approved by both tribal elders and an Alaskan Orthodox rabbi.

"We got to know the children and they needed a home," Dafna told BBC News Online.

"We wanted to have a family and the children had no place to go," she said.

They remained in Alaska for five years until the adoption process was completed.

'People are curious'

Eva and Jimmy were brought to Israel (they learned to speak Hebrew in three months), converted to Judaism and integrated into Israeli society among the Orthodox community of Nir Etzion, a village near Haifa.

Eva and Jimmy Ben Sira at a Jewish school in Alaska
Eva and Jimmy could speak Yupik and Hebrew
The twins attended religious schools and had bar- and batmitzvahs - Jewish coming of age ceremonies.

"Their culture wasn't a problem, but they did ask a lot of questions when they were growing up," Dafna said.

After nearly a decade in Israel, Eva has forgotten the smattering of Yupik she spoke as a child, but with her long black hair and almond-shaped eyes, she has retained her ethnic looks.

"People are very curious," said Dafna.

"When I take the children shopping and people ask which parent the children look like, I tell them they take after their father because he's not there.

"When my husband takes them shopping and people ask, he tells them they look like me because I'm not there."

Dafna said Eva has no wish to delve too deeply into her past and is very happy living in Israel.

Jimmy, however, is more intrigued and wants to go back to Alaska, if for only a visit.

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