Female Israeli Lone Soldiers May Finally Get Their Home Away From Home
JNS.org – Part of the widely admired strength of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) comes from the many “lone soldiers,” who leave their homes and families abroad in order to help protect the Jewish homeland. Now, some women in this group may receive a boost to their ability to serve.
Until now, female lone soldiers have not enjoyed the same type of group residential facilities as their male counterparts. But that is likely to change.
“The IDF would not exist today as a functioning army without its female soldiers,” said Josh Flaster, national director of The Lone Soldier Center – In Memory of Michael Levin, a nonprofit that assists lone soldiers before, during and after their army service.
Attention on female soldiers’ key participation in the IDF has been amplified during the past 18 months, thanks to the creation of two new combat divisions that are comprised almost entirely of women. Previously, women could only pursue combat roles through co-ed units, such as the IDF’s Caracal battalion.
What isn’t apparent to most observers, she explained, is that the Israeli military’s vast combat support system is comprised largely of female soldiers.
“I was a search-and-rescue instructor. I taught guys in combat units. The girls get overlooked, although our role is critically important,” Grob said.
Lone soldier Nechama (whose last name cannot be published because she is still serving), is part of a missile unit in the Israeli Air Force. Originally from London, she made aliyah in 2014.
“I’m an Israeli with a British past, not a British person,” Nechama responds, when asked if she plans to return to England after finishing her military service.
The challenges of being off-duty
When Israeli-born soldiers are off-duty, they can return to their families for home-cooked meals, and to have their laundry and shopping done for them. If they get sick or injured, they can visit their regular doctors with little hassle, and they have families to look after them.
But lone soldiers have no experience with the Israeli medical system and nobody to help them navigate it. And there are no home-cooked meals or supportive parents waiting to greet them when they go off-duty. They have to do all their own shopping, cooking and cleaning in the short time that they are off base.
For example, Grob broke her foot last year during a training exercise. The kibbutz where she lived was not set up to take care of sick soldiers or soldiers with disabilities, and it was extremely difficult for her to carry a bag filled with groceries or to do laundry while on crutches. After some tough months under those circumstances, Grob couldn’t wait to get back on her military base.
Prospects for a new home
To address these problems, the Lone Soldier Center created an independent home for male lone soldiers in 2015; it has since added two more facilities. But women, who comprise 40 percent of the IDF and about one-third of the military’s lone soldiers (according to center head Flaster), have had no such home to date.
But that is about to change, as the Lone Soldier Center is actively engaged in the process of acquiring a private home to accommodate up to 10 female soldiers. The organization has set a current fundraising goal of $60,000 for the project. The home will be fully furnished and stocked with everything necessary to sustain troops when they are off base. Just as with the male soldiers’ homes, the facility for women will have a “house mother” who will prepare kosher meals and provide the kind of adult supervision and support that so many lone soldiers sorely miss.
“I really could have used that kind of support system,” Grob said. “People are wonderful about donating fleeces to keep us warm, or pizzas for those doing late-night guard duty, but having an actual home in a central location, with laundry facilities and an advisor who can help with practical or just emotional support, is even more important.”
Nechama added, “It’s so hard for a lone soldier to find a place that is affordable and in a central location — to have the camaraderie of other soldiers in the same home would make our lives so much easier.”