Not Far From Home Anymore: Lone IDF Soldiers Find a Place to Call Their Own
JERUSALEM – There are some 5,600 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF, 60% of whom are new immigrants. Being a lone soldier is not an easy task. Faced with the same challenges every solider contends with, these soldiers have no family nearby for support, no home for refuge when they’re on furlough; in short, they are forced to cope on their own.
Who can they turn to for emotional support? Who will they spend the holidays with? Who will cheer for them when they are sworn in at the end of basic training? The Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center was established five years ago with the goal of giving these soldiers a home.
Five years ago Jared White, Josh Flaster, and Tziki Aud decided to found an organization that would help these lone soldiers. White and Flaster were themselves lone soldiers and knew first-hand what it means to be one.
“Michael Levin was a paratrooper serving in the 890th Battalion and was killed in the Second Lebanon War. I knew him; he was adopted by Tziki Aud. When we thought of the new organization we thought about a dedication. Therefore, the Center is named after Mickey. He was part of the lone soldier’s family,” explains White. White, 29, is a resident of Jerusalem and is studying to become a teacher. After making Aliyah, he enlisted in the IDF and served as a commander in the paratroopers. He currently heads the Jerusalem branch.
“During our first staff meeting everyone took out the money they had in their pockets. We had a total sum of 320 NIS; from here we grew. Today we are a nation-wide organization,” Jared says proudly. The Center has branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva, and Haifa, with 300 volunteers who help run them. Almost all of the organization’s soldiers are former lone soldiers.
Lone soldiers often need someone to help ease their burden, points out volunteer Michael Shapira. Michael is a 28 year old medical student at Hebrew University. He comes from California, and served in the Nahal Brigade. “I personally had it comparatively easy, because I lived on Kibbutz Maoz Chaim. Sometimes it was really hard to come home on Friday from a base far away when I had things to take care of. When I got back everything was closed and I didn’t have a chance to do anything. I managed because I had a family that could help me. Many lone soldiers don’t have that kind of support. Therefore, it is very important that the organization serve as a support net for them.”
“I began volunteering for the organization four years ago. I love the work and really believe in what we do. I constantly see soldiers entering their new life and we help them, ” said Dana Yatsiv, who helps with the group’s financials. She emigrated from California seven years ago, and is a business management and literature student at Hebrew University. “When I was a lone soldier I had to take care of everything on my own. I had a hard time with military bureaucracy; I didn’t know who to speak with. You can easily get lost in the IDF system and it can be very stressful. Our organization has advisers who can help the soldiers and speak with their commanders. There are people who can really fight for them,” Dana adds.
The Center has three divisions: consultation, moving, and social activities. The organization works with the IDF, which helps fund its activities. White himself holds staff meetings with IDF officers.
The consultation department offers pre-enlistment consultation, offering guidance on military service, the various units, and the unique status of the lone soldier. The moving department assists soldiers who have been discharged to move smoothly into civilian life.
The social activities department offers monthly based activities such as a BBQs, movie nights, trips, Shabbat and holiday events, and more.
“The most unique undertaking we have had was during Operation Pillar of Defense,” says White, “Many soldiers were mobilized from their bases to the field and did not have time to take warm clothing with them. Some of the lone soldiers I spoke to complained of the cold. We collected 24,000 dollars in 24 hours and dispersed winter gear to the soldiers in the field, all while under a barrage of rockets,” he recalls.
“We had one soldier from Australia who broke his leg while in the army. He came to us for money to buy food. He now gets food coupons from us. Furthermore, I invited him to bring his Playstation with him and sit with us at the Center. The Center is like a home for everyone. Our objective is to show the lone soldiers that we are like family here,” White explains.