I have been in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a Lone Soldier for about 9 months now. Three of those months were in Michve Alon, where I improved my Hebrew and learned more about Israeli culture. The rest have so far been spent completing Basic Training and beginning Advanced Training in the Tzabar Company of the Givati Brigade. The army is challenging for just about all who enlist. But for Lone Soldiers–those without immediate family in Israel–the experience is even more challenging and rewarding. Many articles and experiences shared by or written about Lone Soldiers tend to focus on suicide rates, depression, or neglect, as well as only the negatives of being an immigrant in an army that speaks a totally different language. I will share some of these, but also a lot of the bright spots of being a Lone Soldier, to better help people understand what it is like–particularly those considering doing the same thing in the future.
Being a Lone Soldier means sometimes not showering during Sha’at Tash (free hour) in order to have more phone conversation time with friends and family abroad.
Being a Lone Soldier means having Yom Siddurim (Errands Day) once a month, when sometimes it is used for “down time” and other times it is vital to ensuring you take care of the rough bureaucracy errands you need or shopping so you have enough food.
Being a Lone Soldier means it is harder to connect–generally due to language barrier or age differences–with your fellow troops.
Being a Lone Soldier means you’re often times more motivated or harder working than a lot of your fellow soldiers, which can get you recognized by your commanders.
Being a Lone Soldier means it is especially emotionally rough to “close Shabbat” on base, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Being a Lone Soldier means tearing up randomly at times, missing your family and friends, and your old life back home.
Being a Lone Soldier means feeling a pang of sadness and disappointment when the other soldiers bring back baked goods from their family to base, and you have none because you’re alone here.
Being a Lone Soldier means returning on Shabbat is especially meaningful, particularly when with friends or a host family.
Being a Lone Soldier means sabras think you’re both incredibly brave and at least a bit crazy for doing this.
Being a Lone Soldier means that a lot of people offer you free food or free rides because of your service. Everyone (well, almost everyone) wants to help in various ways.
Being a Lone Soldier means everyone trying to talk to you in English, even if you speak Hebrew with them.
Being a Lone Soldier means you generally get the tafkid (military placement) you request–so long as your Hebrew is good enough.
Being a Lone Soldier means you’re constantly questioning your decision to enlist in the IDF, but you’d do it again at the end of the day because of the immense pride & honor you feel to serve.
Being a Lone Soldier is scary and thrilling, lonely and comforting, a sacrifice and an honor. In short, it is a contradiction, and the most important thing I have done in my life up to this point.