July 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

From TABC to Tzahal: An Interview With Lone Soldier Noach Strassberg

Hi, Noach, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me. I know you are so busy wrapping up your army service.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Monsey and I went to various schools. I happen to have a big family—four siblings and four step siblings. I graduated high school from TABC and then came to Israel to learn in yeshiva at Netiv Aryeh for the year.

Right now I have an apartment off of the shuk (Machane Yehuda) where I live with other lone soldier friends.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a soldier in the Israeli army? Was it something you thought about in TABC?

I never thought about joining the army when I was in high school. In fact, I never even gave the slightest thought to the army. In high school, my original plan was to go straight to a local community college and then transfer from there. A friend of mine convinced me to go to Israel for the year—I wasn’t even planning to go at all! From there I met some amazing people who were convinced from the beginning that they had come to this country to serve in the army, and I became good friends with them. They helped me gain a huge love for the land of Israel and made me want to stay and join the army.

How was your Hebrew? Were you sufficiently prepared? How would you say your Hebrew is now?

I would say my Hebrew was pretty non-existent. I’m not sure I can blame it on my Jewish day-school education or my family background. Even entering yeshiva I really just knew how to read. Now my Hebrew is more or less fluent.

You are finishing your army service in the Kfir Brigade. Can you tell us what exactly that means you do?

I was in Kfir in Netzach Yehuda, which is the religious unit. After I learned in yeshiva for a year and a half I then served for two years in Kfir. We are basically responsible for urban terrorism working in the West Bank, Judea and Samaria region, and the Binyamin and Jerusalem areas as well. We are there protecting communities in all those areas. We are also involved in raids and protecting the citizens from being attacked by thrown rocks, etc.

Noach, as a lone soldier serving in Israel, what were some of the most difficult challenges or experiences you faced?

As a lone soldier there are many challenges. I am in a new country, with a different culture and view on life that is very different from my own. It can be a more aggressive way of life, and I am more of a passive person. Moreover, lone soldiers go back home to their own apartments, except for those few who have adopted families, like your soldier, Raanan. We need to buy our own food, cook our own meals and do our own laundry. We pretty much do everything on our own with not much time to take care of things. Considering you get off from the army only two Fridays or so a month, it’s pretty challenging.

That does seem very challenging. Did you have any support systems here to help you with those challenges?

There are two organizations that helped me tremendously: the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin and Chayal El Chayal. They provided me with warm, delicious meals in a friendly environment. Personally, I went to more of the Chayal El Chayal meals because I connected with their warm Chabad atmosphere.

Noach, we met through our adopted lone soldier, Raanan Botnick from Highland Park, who’s your good friend. When you came to our home for Shabbat you shared with us some pretty inspirational stories of love and support that you experienced from random strangers while serving in the army. Can you share some of those experiences with us?

I have had just so many incredible stories happen to me. I was at the makolet (store) buying food for base for the next two weeks and my credit card wasn’t working. I started putting all my food back on the shelves when a woman approached me, offering to pay for my groceries. After I politely refused she then went and starting pulling items off the shelves and asking me, “Do you need this? How about these?” She filled up a shopping cart for me. Another time when my credit card wasn’t working the cashier swiped her own credit card and said, “You’re a soldier here, I’m paying for your food.” That kind of thing happened a lot to me.

Wow, Noach, that’s really incredible.

Yeah. Also, I don’t think there was a Shabbat when I was patrolling near yishuvim (gated communities) that I wasn’t invited to someone’s home to join them. It didn’t matter if they were in the middle of their meal, just started or had way too many guests or too few. People would always invite us to join them no matter what.

What advice do you have for other lone soldiers who are just beginning their service?

I would say to lone soldiers starting out that no matter how difficult anything is, always remember you are not doing this for yourself, you are doing this for other people. So, no matter how hard it is, it’s not for you in the end—it’s for others. If you aren’t doing this difficult task, then who else would or should be doing it? Why should it be them and not you?

I would also say that if you don’t maintain a positive outlook, then things could look bleak, so you should always try to have a positive outlook. And don’t worry so much, because everything usually has a way of working out in the end in the army some way or another. Though there is a lot of shtuyot (nonsense) like everything else.

Wow, that is excellent, sound advice.

Noach, did you make close friends in your unit? Do you see yourself keeping in touch with them?

I can honestly say that my best friend today is someone who was in my unit for two plus years. We keep in touch every day. One of my closest friends is also in my unit and originally from Ethiopia. This is actually one of the reasons I learned Hebrew, to be able to be good friends and communicate with someone who wasn’t even close to speaking a word of English.

Now that your army service is almost behind you, what are your thoughts or plans for your next stage in life?

I plan on going back to yeshiva for a couple of months until the summer. Then I would like to go to a mechina program in university, which is a program for olim and foreigners that slowly gets them used to Israeli classes. It will basically help me get integrated into the Israeli college system. And I hope to travel a bit, too, like most soldiers do when they finish their army service.

Noach, I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for sharing with us your personal experiences as a lone soldier in the Israeli army from New York and New Jersey. And thank you so much for keeping am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael safe. Best of luck on your next stage in life. Come back soon for Shabbat; our door is always open.

By Esti Rosen Snukal

 Esti Rosen Snukal made aliya with her husband and four sons from Teaneck, New Jersey, in 2012. She is a volunteer for the Lone Soldier Center for Michael Levin. Esti started a program for the Center called Meals of Love from Abroad, where communities all over the world sponsor meals for over 100 soldiers at a time. Esti is also the adopted mom to Highland Park New Jersey lone soldier Raanan Botnick. Esti can be reached at [email protected].

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