One of my earlier dreams in life was to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. The stories of heroism, honor and humility got stuck in my head and fed the imagination of my 6-year-old self. The following years I had only one goal in mind: to draft to the IDF and serve in the best army of the world. Eventually, when I turned 18-years-old, I left family, friends, and the life that I knew behind to draft. During my service I met Olim so humble, with so much selfless love to Israel, that words aren’t enough to describe their extraordinary qualities.
This outstanding people and I faced similar challenges; most of us didn’t have family Israel, our social circle was limited to the military one and most of us felt alone. During holidays and Shabbatot we turned to the Lone Soldier Community and although it offers a great support, sometimes it is not enough. It came to us as a surprise when we found out that this topic was a taboo inside the army. We were disappointed to find out that when you reach for help the only answers you get are silence and judgement.
When the institution that you admired for so long not only doesn’t help but, instead of that, puts you in a position where your service and job are on the tightrope, breaks you. Requesting to see a psychologist while you are at service gives the awfully mistaken perception that you are not fit to continue as a combat soldier, or in more extreme cases, to even finish your service. Close friends of mine weren’t taken seriously, and they were told that they were not fit to continue their service. Instead of getting help they got threaten. That’s the reason why many soldiers don’t talk about their problems and hide them. But as we all know, that only aggravates the situation and sadly some soldiers prefer to take their own life than being object of humiliation and judgement.
After finishing my service, I came to the realization that Mental Health is a topic that not a lot of people are willing to talk about everywhere in Israel. Maybe because of stigma or maybe because we are afraid of being judged. If we don’t create awareness, people will lose hope in government entities. It is not surprising that young people, Israelis included, don’t want to draft anymore. If the army doesn’t start taking care of their soldiers, we will find ourselves in a situation where we will lack people who defend us and our borders.
We need to start normalizing this issue as it is done in other countries. Everyone goes through tough situations, Olim Chadashim and Lone Soldiers are not the exception. We left the life that we knew behind, we cut ties with family and friend, we tried to adapt to a different culture and country, these circumstances are not easy to go through, to say the least. Hiding how we feel won’t help us. Everyone needs a helping hand once in a while. The change should start with ourselves, but we also need to demand to the government entities, specially the army, to give more support to treat this problem. If they cannot support our soldiers properly, how can we expect them to be willing to do their jobs correctly? How can we expect more people to be willing to draft? This are our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters, our wives and our husbands. Isn’t what they do enough? Isn’t the daily sacrifice they make enough? We should care a lot more, we should do a lot more, not only for us but for them. It’s our obligation to take a step forward and be part of the change.