Carrie Hart
News Analyst

Israel’s unique way of providing for lone soldiers

Taking a break on the outdoor patio at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in memory of Michael Levin. Photo by Carrie Hart.
Taking a break on the outdoor patio at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in memory of Michael Levin. Photo by Carrie Hart.

Taking care of lone soldiers has been a commitment by the state of Israel, which extends to the NGO’s and volunteers that assist in meeting their vital needs.

Before October 7, 2023, a divided nation was threatened by some soldiers who were upset by government policies. They made hollow statements saying that they may not continue to serve in the IDF.  When the war began on that fateful day in October, after Hamas massacred more than 1200 civilians living in southern communities, many thought Israelis would flee the country. But, instead, plane loads of Israelis living abroad, returned home and joined their comrades in the IDF. Lone soldiers were among them, and when they arrived, they were soon assigned to their units.  Once they found their bases, the next step was to find a place to live.

Already, the lone soldiers had choices as rental apartments, centers, and homes were available to provide shelter to these brave young men and women that traveled thousands of miles, intent on fighting for the survival of this nation.  Among them were Israeli lone soldiers, rejected by their own families, and displaced because of a variety of reasons. They, too, found places to live, especially when they were on break from their army service and not required to be at their bases.

One unique lone soldiers’ organization in Jerusalem is among those across the country caring for the needs of active men and women fighting in the IDF. Established fifteen years ago, it has welcomed 3,500 lone soldiers to its centers. Most of the homes are located in the Jerusalem, Beersheva, and Tel Aviv areas. One of those is nestled within the beautiful tree-lined neighborhood of Beit HaKerem, which is in a quiet part of Jerusalem.

Helping to fulfill the dream of Michael Levin, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War, this organization established lone soldiers’ homes in his memory, offering services and support to those who did not have their own families caring for them in practical and emotional ways. Several veteran lone soldiers took it upon themselves to open two facilities in the city center of Jerusalem. Then, the old Reich Hotel became available in Beit HaKerem, which was refurbished.

According to Jeff Daube, former director of the Israeli office of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and now an associate board member of these lone soldiers’ homes, describes how the vision in honor of Michael Levin was expanded two years ago to include the facility in Beit HaKerem. “It was a beautiful building, completely empty. The municipality offered it to us for a low rental price, and we jumped at the opportunity.”

That home, which has a patio in the front and a large backyard, can hold up to 60 soldiers in residence — male and female, living on separate floors of the facility. The Israeli army gives the soldiers a rent stipend, which is passed on to the Beit HaKerem center, which helps with the overhead costs to run the home.

Daube says that often the soldiers come back from their bases on Thursday afternoon or evening, and they are tired. They want to do laundry; pay bills; eat; spend some time with their friends at the home; sleep; and then prepare to go back to their bases on Sunday.

The Beit HaKerem center offers special events on Thursday’s. When this writer was there, it was a clothing drive, and the staff encouraged soldiers to buy some nice used clothing delivered to the center. In the building there is a pool table and ping pong table. Some of the soldiers play piano, as well as a variety of musical instruments. They watch TV together and share video games. At Purim they have a large party. Other times, the organizers at the center have guests come and share, including dignitaries. On one occasion, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke at a gathering at the Beit HaKerem home.

Enjoying memorable times together is important to the community. On Israeli Independence Day, the center hosts a big barbecue. Daube admits he looks forward to these special events. “This place rocks when we have those events here! They have this volunteer group of veteran soldiers that have organized to do the entire barbecue. They do it themselves. We supply the meat. They bring in the equipment.”

Though Daube has years of experience as a mental health care provider, he chooses to volunteer in practical ways for lone soldiers, and looks for other volunteers, especially those who have cars. There are about 600 volunteers throughout the country. Daube recruit’s drivers to do deliveries in the Jerusalem area. The volunteers are asked to drop off Shabbat dinners to the Beit HaKerem home, as well as lone soldiers’ homes in the neighborhood of Arnona. The organization has set up four residences in Jerusalem.

Continuing to also meet the needs of lone soldiers in Tel Aviv and Beersheva, the organization hopes to expand to the northern part of the country, too. Lone soldiers who have their own rental apartments are also offered services.  Daube explains the full outreach. “Out of 7,000 lone soldiers in Israel, currently, we support — in one way or another – roughly, 2,000. We have about 150 lone soldiers in residency. Others come in for counseling for PTSD and trauma issues.”

While many synagogues cook the kosher Shabbat meals that are delivered, the Beit HaKerem facility has non-sectarian and non-denominational lone soldiers staying in that particular home. Daube shares that the kitchen is strictly kosher, and everybody respects each other’s dietary issues.

“We have secular and religious soldiers living here,” says Daube. “You have to be sensitive to everyone’s needs… They do a lot of food preparations themselves.”

One of the key elements of the organization is to provide social workers at the centers, especially after the horrendous terrorist atrocities some of the soldiers experienced on and after October 7, 2023. Daube clarifies that, while the soldiers need their “space” to work out their issues, at some point they may seek help. “There are some soldiers that withdraw; pull away. That is much harder to diagnose.”

Daube says the older adults who oversee the lone soldiers’ homes try to identify what each soldier is going through. “They have all kinds of psychological and social work consulting services. That is part of the volunteer corps. Sometimes they will counsel off-premises. The soldiers want their privacy… You have to, at least, give them the opportunity. If they don’t have those opportunities presented to them, some of them will not, willingly, come forward and share their trauma and look for therapy.”

Meanwhile, there are peers that stay in touch with their friends in the house, and observe changed behavior, then report it to the house managers, if necessary.  According to Rebecca, who is one of the lone soldiers saying at the center, “We check-up on our friends. I always know who is home, and when they are home, and if I don’t see them, I can call them.”  In this way, peers can talk out their daily problems with one another.

Rebecca approached the organization as an Israeli “youth-at-risk,” estranged from her parents, and needing a home family atmosphere to live in as she became of age to serve in the army. She has been at the center for seven months. She is a combat soldier in intelligence.

Rebecca was born in Israel. Her parents live here, but she has no contact with them. She left home when she was about 12 years old because of her family situation. At the lone soldiers’ home, she has experienced the closeness of living in community. “Everybody in the center is friendly; always welcoming… It is a very warm place. It really feels like home. We all know each other. We always go out together. It is really like a family. We are all very close.”

After her army service, Rebecca plans to travel, as most Israelis do, during the transition from the army to civilian life. Then, she hopes to earn a pharmacist degree. As a combat soldier she can get a degree for free because the army pays for it. Rebecca speaks of this great opportunity. “It is something we have in Israel. So, being a combat soldier is very beneficial for a lot of Israeli kids.”

Liora Rubenstein is the CEO of the Lone Soldier’s Center in memory of Michael Levin. She was in the Israeli army 30 years, including her last assignment as a Lt. Colonel Chief of Staff regarding women’s issues. She was discharged seven years ago, and still has a lot of connections to help the lone soldiers succeed. She sees each one of them as special and important. “We are, all the time, in touch with the soldiers.”

She also speaks of the assistance that the center gives to the soldiers when they need to move from one home to another. She mentions that tutors are available, as well. “We have some volunteers that teach them English or Math.”

Rubenstein is currently involved in raising support to expand the vision of the organization and to provide more services. She focuses on: Those lone soldiers who come from abroad, immigrate to Israel and go into the army; those who are native born Israeli lone soldiers; those with an ultra-Orthodox background; and youth-at-risk who have no support from their family.

Tom is a female social worker who is at the center during the day, and available by phone during off-hours. She often acts as a resident counselor, guiding lone soldiers towards universities and employment opportunities, so they can make a wise and easy transition after their army service. She shares her love for the lone soldiers. “We are trying to be their family. When they come back home, we talk to them and ask them what is going on. We are here for them… They are comfortable to talk to me.”

There are two counselors that live on the premises. The soldiers seek out Tom when needing help for PTSD, trauma, and other mental health issues. She refers them to the counselors, or finds them special therapists.

Currently, there are about 10 in the Bet HaKerem home who suffer from PTSD. It’s not only because of their time in the army, but also whatever struggles they were having before they entered their army service. The fact that lone soldiers are openly admitting they have emotional needs is a new welcomed phenomena happening in Israel.

Tom, herself, connects with lone soldiers before, during and after their IDF service. It can be up to 10 years that she stays in touch. She loves her job and enjoys caring for the soldiers. The consistency of the help she provides causes them to trust and feel comfortable with her over the long-run.

As these lone soldiers transition from army life back to civilian life, Tom admits that this is the period where the adjustment is the most difficult and they are the most vulnerable. “They have been through a lot of things in their lives, but I see a lot of hope… I am happy for them, and I am happy they know that they can come to me, and call me at any time, at any hour.”

With this kind of support, the Beit HaKerem center in memory of Michael Levin has been able to successfully meet the needs of lone soldiers, in a unique way, that serves the state of Israel, supporting the work of the IDF.

For more information, contact:

Jeff Daube with Liora Rubenstein receiving food coupons at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.
Tom, the female social worker at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.
Two female soldiers sitting together at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.
Recently engaged couple sitting together at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.
A special clothing drive at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.
The Dining Hall where lone soldiers meet for meals at the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.
The backyard of the Beit HaKerem Lone Soldiers Center in Israel where large events take place. Photo by Carrie Hart.
About the Author
Carrie Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, military and social issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.
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