Sholom Rothman
Sholom Rothman
Never Stop Growing

Running to Join the Army

I first came to Israel for a year, to learn in a yeshiva, when I was 19 years old. The summer before my studies began, I spent a lot of time walking around Yerushalayim and touring the country, and I fell in love with Israel, but especially its capital.
During that year, I felt more and more connected to the people, and Yerushalayim began to feel like it was really my home. But at no point during the year did I hear anyone talk about Lone Soldiers, and had no idea that there was an option for someone who was not born in Israel to join the army. I don’t really know what my choice would have been if I had been educated as to the possibility, but I never got the chance to find out.
I returned to The States with the intention of one day making Aliya. My wife, whom I met a few years later, also had spent some time in Israel, and had likewise developed a love of Israel and an intention to make Aliya some day. But after we got married, life got in the way. We both had careers that were not easily transferable, and then our three children began growing up and we became more entrenched in our daily lives.
But the dream of Aliya still burned on, and after the children all married and moved out, and we were reaching retirement age, we finally took the plunge, made Aliyah, and moved to Yerushalayim. And truthfully, each day is only more blessed than the one before. With close to ten years in our pockets since our Aliyah, our lives back ‘in the old country’ seem like a long ago dream, and Yerushalayim is our home. When I walk the streets of the city, and listen to the chatter of the old and young people, I still have feelings of gratitude to the Almighty for giving me the opportunity to be here.
Still, there was one experience I felt that I had missed out on, and that was being in the IDF, the Israel army. I somewhat quenched that urge a few years ago when I volunteered for a week with Sar-El, an organization that places civilians in Army bases to help do some of the grunt work and to thereby free up soldiers for more important tasks. I received an Army uniform, slept in an Army barracks, ate Army food, and spent my days helping clean out and restore a storehouse of medical equipment.
While that week was rewarding, I still felt the need to do some more. My father always quipped that he would join the IDF, but they wouldn’t accept him as a general. And I know that as a senior citizen, it is too late for me to actually sign up. So I looked for other opportunities, and finally found one.
I decided to help Lone Soldiers and Lone Bnot Sherut (national service volunteers) who are giving of themselves to come here from all over the world to help all of us in Israel. These wonderful young men and women have a difficult time navigating daily life here, especially on Shabbat and holidays when they are free to leave their bases and go out on their own.
I joined the fledgling Michael Levin Base about two years ago as a member of their Board of Directors. My fellow directors and I do our best to raise funds for the organization and in turn provide necessary services to make like easier for those who are giving of themselves, when they really didn’t have to, to help all of our citizens. One of the activities I developed was to have Skype/Zoom sessions between schools/synagogues abroad and a Lone Soldier and Lone Bat Sherut. I interview these two wonderful young people and give a chance to those who know very little about their challenges to learn about their lives. I get very inspired listening to their life stories.
A few months ago, the Jerusalem Marathon was reinstated (after a being postponed during Covid-19) and scheduled for this past October 25th. The Michael Levin Base was going to have a team of runners who would be running under their banner, and also working to get sponsorships to raise money for The Base.
In New York years ago, I ran a few half-marathons, and had recently begun running again about 3 miles (5 kilometers) a day on the Tayelet near my home, to get in shape. With a heavier dose of training, I felt I could once again run a half-marathon and raise needed funds for the Michael Levin Base.
I reached out to just about anyone I ever knew or currently know in an effort to raise some substantial funds. I understand that many people don’t have spare cash for donations, or have their own pet charities to which they contribute. I did get a number of contributions that started adding up.  But I was as impressed with the responses I received from those who said they wished they could help, but couldn’t, and still wanted to let me know that they appreciated the effort I was making to do this important Mitzva, and they were rooting me on, both for the race and for reaching my goal of sponsorships.
I replied to them, profusely thanking them for their kind words, and telling them that it meant a great deal to receive such an email, even if they were unable to make a donation (I certainly did receive contributions plus encouragement from many people).  When someone makes a fellow feel good about a Mitzva he is doing, it increases his enthusiasm, and spurs him on to work even harder to meet his goals. By doing so, the person who encourages the one doing the Mitzva becomes a partner with him, and accrues credit from the One Above.
I managed to raise a nice amount, and made it across the finish line of the half-marathon, in a time of 2:32:57, which was 10 minutes faster than my first race in New York 30 years ago.
I would like to publicly thank all those who encouraged me, whether they donated or not. They probably have no idea (until now) of how much their support was appreciated, how it helped me complete a successful race, and at the same time made me feel like I have a much greater connection with Lone Soldiers and Lone Bnot Sherut than before.
But really, doesn’t the Israel Army really need generals like me?  🙂
About the Author
I studied in Jerusalem for a year when I was 19 years old, and developed a love for Israel and especially Jerusalem. It took me over 40 years to finally fulfill my life's dream and make Aliyah to Jerusalem. I had been a computer programmer for 37 years, but now, after retirement, study full time in yeshiva, and was granted Semicha two years ago.
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