It was 1972 and the elite paratrooper reconnaissance unit, Sayeret Tzanchanim, was based in Tel Nof Air Force base. The entire unit had been given the day off for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).
There was no main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as there is today, so we had a two-to-three hour commute from the army post near Ramle going east.
It was a time when soldiers were allowed to hitchhike, so there was a different atmosphere on the roads in Israel, with a lot more soldiers waiting by the roads.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were all in our best army clothes — including our red berets. It was a very hot, scorching day.
We were around 200 people from many units in the IDF, all standing in line, with the military police keeping discipline and order in a very strict fashion — as much as they could, given the holiday atmosphere and incredible heat.
All of a sudden one of those old sherut black lark taxis that would travel at unnerving speeds between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem screeched to a halt and the driver’s door opened. The driver, a well-built man wearing a singlet — a tough-looking guy — points specifically at me with my red beret identifying me as a paratrooper and said, “Ata, ha-tzanchan!” in a thick Sephardi accent, stressing the “chan” in “tzanchan” for those who know what I mean.
“You, the paratrooper! I have one place for you in my taxi!”
As a lone soldier from California, a paratrooper, I arrived into Jerusalem feeling 10 feet tall that day. This patriotic taxi driver, who had come out of nowhere, had made this paratrooper feel like a million dollars.
With no family in Israel, yet feeling surrounded by family.
On that hot Yom Ha’atzmaut, as every day, Israel and its people remind me why I am here and how special this country is, and why my heart continues to go out to all lone soldiers in the State of Israel.
There are 300 lone soldiers studying at IDC Herzliya and thousands more in the country. May the Lord watch over them and the rest of our courageous soldiers.