Former Routt County resident shares story of journey to Judaism and fighting in the Israeli Army | SteamboatToday.com

Former Routt County resident shares story of journey to Judaism and fighting in the Israeli Army

Frances Hohl For Steamboat Today

Tzvi Yakir, Jeremy Darling to the friends he grew up with in Routt County, will be speaking Friday morning about the search for his family’s Jewish roots and how it led him to immigrate to Israel.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jeremy Darling was born and raised in the mountains of Routt County. Both dad and stepdad were true cowboys and mom was a free spirit whose only religion was nature. So how did Darling eventually turn up in the Israeli army, taking on the role of a lone soldier — a soldier with no Israeli family — in defense of another nation?

First, Darling no longer exists as such. His new name is Tzvi Yakir and the journey starts in Holland in the 1930s long before Yakir was born. He had heard something about his great grandmother fleeing the anti-Semitism sparked by Hitler's march across Europe, but that was a mere whisper from his childhood.

Life in 1990s Steamboat Springs and Routt County was ranching, playing outside, working at the Clark Store during summers, and religion was the beauty surrounding him. His little brother fit right in to the Colorado ranch life, and, though Darling owned snake-skinned cowboy boots and could ride a horse, he just never fit in like his little brother.

"I felt like a black sheep. That's why I ended up leaving," said Yakir during a rare visit to see his mom and stepdad who still live in Clark in North Routt County.

Yakir will be giving a special presentation about finding his Jewish roots during a talk at Centennial Hall at 124 10th Street in downtown Steamboat Springs on Friday morning from 10 to 11:30 a.m. He was invited to speak by Har Mishpacha. He'll also talk about his role as a Lone Soldier who  sometimes travels in America with the goal of refuting what he calls lies by the anti-Israeli movement BDS.  The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement defines itself as "working to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians." Yakir a speaker for Reservests on Duty and the Gideon Group.

By the time he was 14, Yakir's mom knew her son wanted something more than small-town Colorado and supported his move to a military boarding school in New Mexico. But it wasn't until Darling went on to the University of Colorado at Boulder did she realize he needed more.

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"They were raised on Mother Nature, not really any religion," said Yakir's mom, Barb Lynn.

"I was just happy he found his people right off the bat during his first week of college."

In fact, Darling's first interaction was with students looking for pledges for their Jewish fraternity.

"I was always searching where I belonged. I almost went to the U.S. Army as a chaplain. But the interviewer turned out to be a Jewish chaplain. And it turns out my mom's side was Jewish."

The fraternity members told Darling he needed to have Jewish roots. Jeremy soon realized he found what he had been looking for.

"It was the Jewish misfits club, and I fit into that quite well, and they became my best friends through college," said Yakir.

The fraternity set up Yakir's first trip to Israel on a so-called birthright trip. Any young adult with Jewish roots can take one of these birthright trips free of cost to learn about Israel and Judaism.

"I didn't even have a passport and had never traveled more than four hours in a plane," said Yakir. But when he landed in Tel Aviv, Yakir knew he was home.

"I finally felt this was the community I've been searching for. After that journey, I thought 'How did I not know I was Jewish? How did my grandparents not raise their kids Jewish?' And I learned what happened to my own family."

"I was just happy for him," said his mom, Barb, who is now studying books on Judaism to better understand her son's religion and the country of Israel where he now lives as a citizen.

"He has a very beautiful life in Israel and has a host family there … the most wonderful family anyone could wish for," she said.

To hear the whole story of Yakir's journey which includes tragedy, comedy and everything in between, head to Centennial Hall.

In the meantime, we asked Yakir what he missed most about America? He answered unabashedly.

"The materialism …  and openness. You can go to a grocery and get whatever you want in whatever flavor you want. I miss the diversity of thought and diversity of people. I'm in a bubble in Tel Aviv. It's fun to come back and go shopping," he laughed.

What’s in a name?

• Jeremy Darling changed his name to Tzvi Yakir

• Tzvi means “deer” in Hebrew. Chosen because of his love of Colorado nature.

• Yakir means “darling,” a direct translation of his surname.

If you go:

What: Story of Tzvi Yakir’s journey

When: 10 a.m. Friday

Where: Centennial Hall, 124 10th Street

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