Monday, June 05, 2023

There are over 6,300 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF—6,300. I can’t begin to wrap my head around that staggering statistic. It is already so challenging to serve in the army. Lone soldiers, however, have the additional stresses of not having a family to come home to, not having a hot meal waiting for them, not having clean folded laundry or even the simplicity and tenderness of a hug... Little and big things we take for granted and additional responsibilities that make serving our great nation all that more difficult. According to many lone soldiers, the hardest part of their army service is not the physically grueling day but rather the loneliness of not having family close by. Add on the additional responsibilities of having to make sure you have Shabbat food when you only get home right before Shabbat. Having to push yourself when you are back from base to do your laundry, though exhausted, so that you can have a clean uniform for Sunday. It means having the pressures and responsibilities to think about paying your bills and paying your utilities on time so that you have working electricity and water when you are home. It was difficult for my husband and me to fathom that these young men and women who are sacrificing so much to keep us and our loved ones safe would then have such additional stresses placed upon them. All these reasons and more really propelled us to adopt a lone soldier. 

I had once told a friend that making aliyah is comparable to being a little seed. Unlike other Israeli families, our family doesn’t have uncles or grandfathers or nieces who have served in the Israeli army. We come to this country like tiny seeds living among giant maples and towering oaks, whose indigenous roots are extended thick and deep into the mossy earth. Generations of families who have served and who have built this country with their own two hands. I truly feel that every time we do something meaningful here in Israel we are sprouting buds from that tiny seed and growing our own roots. Whether it be adopting a lone soldier or making food for their Lone Soldier Center meals, to other chessed opportunities here that are endless. The more we do, the more connections we make, the more roots we grow.

Which brings us to our adopted lone soldier, Raanan. We approached The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin (see attached article) and asked that, if there was a lone soldier who needed a home that was a good match for our family, they please consider us. Raanan came to us for the first time on Sukkot 2015. He was nervous and extremely shy. We were nervous and excited, though admittedly not shy. This is not shocking if you know our family. Needless to say, the connection between us was not immediate. It really is something that took time and patience, and more time and even more patience. But ultimately it is possible that, other than aliyah and the deep friendships we have forged, other than marriage and parenthood, this is one of the most rewarding things we have ever done. Many of my friends ask me if it is difficult. Truthfully, many times it is. It’s a real commitment. From waking up on a Sunday at 6:40 to drive him to his army bus stop, to quickly running a forgotten passport to Jerusalem. From an extra set of super sweaty laundry, to stocking up the fridge with his favorite yogurts and cottage cheeses. From keeping in touch on WhatsApp throughout the week so he feels connected and thought of, to cooking his favorite meat meals when he his home and making sure not to serve him potatoes because he is so sick of them from being on base. From keeping in contact with his parents and updating them with pictures and status reports, to attending all of his tekasim (ceremonies)  even if it means traveling three hours up North through Arab and Druze villages or down to Beer Sheva on a Friday erev Shabbat. It means learning to balance being there for him at these special events, but also giving him his space so that he can be with his real parents who have visited from far, thereby carving the space for them to have this very special experience. Raanan is blessed to have parents who are not only committed to flying in for all his tekasim, but also serve as role models for many lone soldier parents in that they are super supportive of Raanan’s army service. It was a bit strange at first, to be very honest, because you are blindly bringing a young adult into your established family dynamic and you need to adopt a healthy sense of humor and perspective about the whole thing.

Once, around Pesach, I texted Raanan a picture of the mountain of sand he accidentally left on his bedroom floor from his army boots. “Should I clean this up?” I asked. “Or are you expecting some camels later?

“I’m so sorry,” he responded. “I was in such a rush!”

To which I couldn’t resist. “Wow you’re really getting into this whole יציאת מצרים thing.”

If I can make him laugh and feed him a hot meal then I’ve done my job. Raanan has dressed up with us as Scotsmen on Purim and joined us for our family Seudah in Raanana fully clad in a kilt, and his army boots of course.  He also joined my entire immediate family for Pesach Seder in Karnei Shomron, which was extremely meaningful. It was the first time our family had a Cohen, Levi and Yisrael at our Pesach seder (Raanan being the Cohen, my father and brothers Levi’im and the Snukals and my sister’s family Yisrael). It really felt like a סימן, a sign from Hashem that Raanan was meant to join our family and complete it.

Raanan with “adopted brother” Kobi at his first tekes (ceremony) in Michve

As of late, Raanan joined our family as we planted our roots even deeper and celebrated our first Israeli family wedding with my brother and his beautiful kallah on the picturesque mountains of Judeah.

There are so many reasons why adopting Raanan has enhanced our family dynamic. Raanan is a true role model to our four boys. He is extremely organized and independent and brings new meaning to the words discipline and focus. It was these traits that enabled Raanan to pass test after grueling test and make it to the high ranks of an Elite reconnaissance unit. We couldn’t be prouder.    

Raanan has clarified many of the mysteries of the army for us. It is incredible to watch, as our eldest son, Ezra, nears the beginning of his own army service, just how much Raanan really gives him that big-brother presence that Ezra wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. All his stories and experiences, all his seemingly alien army lingo and verbiage help us plant our roots even deeper and for that there really aren’t enough words to thank him. I know that we have adopted him, but in many, many ways, Raanan has adopted us. We look forward to opening our home to a chayelet bodedet, the daughter of our dear friends, when she b`ezrat Hashem starts her army service in a year.

On a personal note, I became so emotional at the Yom Hazikaron tekes this past year that I had to leave and stand at the top of the stairs at our Yishuv ceremony. I couldn’t help but think of our Raanan, and the other 6,300 lone soldiers serving, as well as all of our children. I sent Raanan this WhatsApp from the staircase:

Me: “I’m at a tekes for Yom Hazikaron celebrating all our chayalim and I just wanted to tell you, in case you didn’t know, how proud we are of you and how much we have to thank you Raanan. I know it can’t be easy and I hope we help make it a bit easier for you. So thank you. You can think I’m crazy but it was a pretty emotional tekes... ”

Raanan: “Thank you so so much! You don’t even know how much easier you make it.”

By Esti Rosen Snukal


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