This week Israel pauses to commemorate and remember the 23,816 men and women of the IDF who have paid the ultimate price for our collective freedom and to honour those whose service keeps the torch of Zionism burning. Right across the political and religious spectrum we are all united behind our youngsters serving in the IDF, who are putting their life on the line for the safety of our homeland and the future of the Jewish people. The face beneath the helmet of these selfless teens is the face of our Zionist dreams and hopes. Within the IDF, there is a small but important group of soldiers, the“lone soldiers,” those brave and ideologically motivated individuals, who leave the comforts of their homes and family in the western world, and come to serve our Jewish homeland in the most meaningful way.
Having served as a chayal boded (lone soldier) in a combat unit myself I understand where these youngsters are coming from and what motivates them to serve. The amount of times I heard from my fellow IDF comrades, “Why are you here? Why don’t you enjoy the good life abroad?” was more than balanced by their respect and admiration. I come from a family where my Mother’s side was almost totally annihilated in the Holocaust precisely because they were Jews, and there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no one to protect them. They were murdered, together with the other six million Jews, because they were not in charge of our own destiny and had to rely on the pity of our host nations. I remember thinking university will always be there, but now at this stage in my life, and this juncture in our peoples history, it is more important for me to have the honour of defending our people. It is with those thoughts that I found myself a few months later in front of the Kotel as I received my rifle and Bible swearing the oath to,
Devote all of my strength, and even to sacrifice my life, in the defence of the homeland and the freedom of Israel.
This is what motivates the 6500 Lone Soldiers who are currently serving with distinction the IDF.
It is heart-warming in these times to meet these special, selfless and proud Jewish young people, who come to give and not to take, and who represent all that is good about the miraculous times we live in. After almost two stateless millennia we live in a fortunate era where we are in charge of our own destiny in our own land and we have good people to show us the way.
That being said, to serve as a lone soldier with all of the stresses, physiological, physical and emotional being so far away from family and friends is not easy. To honour Michael Levin (an American born Israeli paratrooper lone soldier who was killed in the Second Lebanon War) and all the “lone soldiers,” his family and many friends, together with other former “lone soldiers,” opened four Lone Soldier Centres . The centres operate from branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. They provide many useful services to lone soldiers such as, helping to finding housing, acquiring furniture, organising Shabbat and holiday meals, counselling and most importantly a place to feel at home. In addition, the recently founded organisation “The Base” aims to support not only lone soldiers but Lone B’not Sheirut (National Service girls) as well as olim families and olim soldiers drafting to the IDF. This is a cause we should all embrace to show our lone soldiers that they are no longer alone.
As we celebrate Israel’s 72nd year of independence this week it is important for us to show our support with actions and deeds for these brave defenders of our State and our Jewish freedom. Israel is Israel because of the young men and women who serve and are prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland and the Jewish hope, “To be a free people in our land after two thousand years” (Hatikvah).
Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Koren, 2017). His forthcoming book on the Second Temple Period will be published by Koren later this year. He also is a Ministry of Tourism licensed Tour Guide and a Judaica artist. www.tuviabook.com