In less than a month, Jared Caros -- a smooth-faced 21 year old with the wise, brown eyes of a sage rabbi -- will head to the Middle East, hardly a travel destination during this time of conflict.
But for Caros, one of the few observant Jews in the Rim Country, his faith means everything. Venturing to Israel is his contribution to society and an investment in himself.
For five months, Caros will stay on a kibbutz -- a communal-living environment. Kibbutz residents share duties, from agriculture to health care, and in return, they receive, in most cases, food and shelter.
"I'm trying to find a sense of identity," said Caros --- whose Hebrew name is Yared (pronounced Yar-eed). "Ultimately, I want to solidify my practices. More than anything, I have a willingness to go around the planet to a more hostile environment than we're used to."
Caros grew up in a religiously conflicted home. At times, his parents practiced Judaism, and then they'd swing to Christianity.
In his teens, he chose his Jewish heritage for its beauty and tradition, he said. Caros' father, a police officer who moved to Payson and then later left because of low salaries, rejected his son's religious preference.
"I got stranded in Payson," he said. "It's not the Jewish support I'd like."
With just $98 in his pocket and a dream of entering the Israeli army, Caros buckled down, worked several jobs and saved money.
Donning a traditional, black yarmulke, or skullcap, and a turquoise and silver ring emblazoned with the Star of David, he's a recognizable Wal-Mart employee. Caros also works behind the counter of the Payson Apothecary Shop. Two weeks ago, he took the pharmacy technician certification test, experience he'll use to contribute to the kibbutz.
Kibbutzim -- the plural pronunciation -- accommodate Jews from all over the world. Caros chose an orthodox living environment, one that practices kosher -- the dietary laws of the Old Testament -- and obeys the Jewish Sabbath.
Language and culture classes are also required, but Caros -- a firearms enthusiast -- doesn't mind. The sooner he learns Hebrew, the quicker he can enter the Israeli army.
Even that's not a sure thing. Soldiers, at minimum, must have dual citizenship. Americans and other immigrant enlistees rarely make it to the front lines -- the place where Caros seeks his ultimate fulfillment.
"I'm not scared," he said. "We never know when it's time to go. If it's not my time go, it's not my time."
He's using his youth to his advantage. Better he takes the risk instead of someone with a family, he said. "I'm still young enough where I don't have any ties. If I had a wife and kids, I'd be looking at things differently."
In spite of his past religious instability, the aggression toward his people and Israel, Caros said he'll work through the challenges to make a difference.
"It's never a convenient time to be Jewish," he said. "We really need to maintain who we are, where we come from."
When he's not working, Caros writes suspense stories, hangs out with friends and practices shooting his guns -- a right he cherishes.
"I want to give people three messages about me," he said. "I'm determined, I'm still a nice guy, but don't mess with me."
To help Caros pay for traveling and living expenses, visit Wells Fargo and ask to make a contribution in his name.
For more information about his trip, contact Caros at email@example.com.