The Israeli singer Dudu Aharon sang about the experience of abandonment.
“You left me now
like a lone soldier
like a wounded animal
like a man without a soul.”
But the parallel between a lone soldier and a wounded animal or soulless man is outrageous. There are 6,317 male and female lone soldiers in Israel right now. Who are they?
According to IDF data, about 40 percent are Israelis without a family behind them — many of them left ultra-Orthodox society, chose to enlist and are estranged from their families. The other 60% hail from over 60 countries worldwide, and chose to leave their childhood homes, come to Israel and enlist in the IDF — some as new immigrants, others as overseas volunteers (“Machal”). They serve for a period of between one-and-a-half years and a full military service, receive certain rights that the IDF grants them and become an integral part of Israeli society.
What does military service entail for a lone soldier? Every Israeli family knows the recruitment process expected for their children. The family support we provide our offspring includes shopping, cooking, laundry, visits to their bases and attending military ceremonies. Who among us doesn’t remember the steaming pot that presented itself on Shabbat morning together with all the family at the entrance to the base, bringing us some fragrances of home? The package full of our favorite cookies baked especially for us? The phone call Dad made to his friend from milluim [reserves] so the kid will get a call-up to the commandos?
Lone soldiers are far from their families, both physically and mentally. Their parents do not know how to maneuver their child through the complex IDF bureaucracy, cannot reach their bases and don’t know Haimke from milluim who can help them arrange whatever they need.
The status of a lone soldier affords a number of rights that allow the soldiers to get through their military service; rent financing, a special month-long vacation to visit their families, a day for running errands once a month that allows them to deal with the various bureaucracies that Israeli soldiers are exempt from. But many of them feel a significant lack of what the army cannot provide them: a supportive community, a family shell.
To address these challenges, The Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin (LSC) was established and for over 11 years has assisted thousands of lone soldiers from over 60 countries. The Center provides the supportive family shell that is so lacking for lone soldiers.
What do we do?
A few examples from recent weeks: A soldier called the Center at 11:00 p.m. because she wasn’t feeling well, had received a sick pass and wanted to return home as quickly as possible. A volunteer from the Center came immediately and drove her out of the base — just like the average parent would have done. Another soldier who had moved apartments 12 times in her first year in Israel found a home in one of the apartments we keep for soldiers. In her words: “A home where I feel I belong, where there’s someone who will make me chicken soup when I’m sick, and call to ask if I’m going home for Shabbat.”
We are, in fact, used as a “home away from home.” One of the lone soldiers assisted by the Lone Soldier Center told me: “Before I got to the Center I would leave the base on Friday and wouldn’t know if I’d have a hot meal for Shabbat.” From the moment he reached the Center, that concern was removed.
We accompany the soldiers on their recruitment day – even during the coronavirus – and say goodbye to them there. We celebrate their birthdays, organize Shabbat meals and a social club for them – because no lone soldier should feel alone.
The plight of lone soldiers has grown even greater during the coronavirus period. The closed skies instantly cut the possibility of their parents visiting here in Israel and giving them some “oxygen.” They are also denied a significant right – to take a special month-long vacation for a family visit in their country of origin. COVID-19 is also adversely affecting released lone soldiers who are suddenly thrown into a more complex world. A world in which there are fewer job options, where the economy is shattered and the skies are closed.
A soldier who deals with military service as a lone soldier is certainly not a wounded animal or a person without a soul. On the contrary, lone soldiers are people with huge souls — true heroes, who made a Zionist choice, left their natural home and enlisted to contribute the best years of their lives to the State of Israel. These are groundbreaking young men and women, real pioneers, with extraordinary powers.
These days, we have launched a crowdfunding campaign that will help us help lone soldiers with our core activities: housing, social clubs, and personal counseling.
The High Holidays period presents difficult challenges for lone soldiers. To get through them, we need you!