July 22, 2024
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Let’s Create a Support Network for the IDF’s Lone Soldiers

When my son told me he wanted to move to Israel and join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), I was not surprised. Although he grew up in Teaneck and attended the Solomon Schechter Day Schools (of Bergen County and Westchester), he was born in Israel and he called Israel home. He would beg to spend summers there, and often did.

During the summer of 2014, before his senior year of college, however, he was in Washington, D.C., interning at a center for terrorism research, when Operation Protective Edge broke out in Gaza. As the only native Hebrew speaker in the pool of interns, he was immediately put on the Middle East desk, reading and watching Israeli media reports about the conflict on a daily basis, and writing comprehensive summaries and timelines for his department. He knew he was doing important work, but he was frustrated not being in Israel. So when the head of the center asked him if he might be interested in staying on to work there after college, he responded, “I don’t see myself working for a think tank right now. I need to be doing something on the ground.”

So off he went a few months after graduation. While it was hard to watch him go, my heart swelled with pure pride.

Unlike those who grow up in Israel, who have a mandatory draft at the age of 18, my son wasn’t required to serve, but decided to volunteer as a lone soldier—one who serves in the IDF without having the support of his or her immediate family. This week, he will complete his service in an IDF special operations combat unit after bravely protecting his country and Jews around the world.

As the parent of a lone soldier, I am full of pride, but yes, also occasional worry. I have grown accustomed to sleeping with the phone next to my bed, stopping what I’m doing if a call comes in from my son or if there is a news alert from Israel, and tearing up when our rabbi recites the “Prayer for the Welfare of the Soldiers of the IDF,” or when I sing certain Israeli songs.

We were very lucky; our son went already familiar with Hebrew and Israeli culture, and with myriad friends and family to whom he could reach out in an emergency—or if he just needed a home-cooked meal or a place to do laundry. That said, we were not there to support him on a day-to-day basis, nor could we be there for every single ceremony. I remember being at a work function and bursting into tears because I was missing his tekes kumta—the graduation ceremony at which he received his special forces beret after marching nearly 100 kilometers—and he was one of the only soldiers there without family in the audience.

Most lone soldiers are not so lucky. They go to Israel knowing no one, and with very limited resources, and that’s where Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) comes in.

There are 7,133 lone soldiers serving in the IDF today. Fifty-three percent of them come from abroad, hailing from 80 countries around the world—and about 844 are American. Throughout the year, FIDF makes sure to support lone soldiers financially, socially and emotionally during and after their challenging military service by providing them with flights to visit family and friends in their countries of origin, grants and financial assistance, fun days, holiday gift packages and vouchers, Shabbat and holiday meals, a 24-hour call center for soldiers and parents, and soldiers’ homes throughout Israel. FIDF’s lone soldiers program is one of its flagship initiatives—and a source of pride for the New Jersey community. I have been incredibly moved by the work they do.

Knowing that this organization exists for my son and his fellow soldiers warms my heart and truly inspires me to keep supporting its efforts on behalf of the soldiers. Besides caring for the wellbeing of Israel’s lone soldiers, FIDF initiates and supports many programs for IDF soldiers, veterans and families of fallen soldiers, including construction projects and scholarships, among others.

The men and women of the IDF risk their lives every day to look after the Jewish homeland, and I urge our community to continue to boost our support for the noble cause of FIDF—to look after Israel’s soldiers!

The upcoming FIDF New Jersey annual dinner will be held on Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Teaneck Marriott Glenpointe. FIDF will host hit Netflix series “Fauda” co-creators Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, as well as IDF soldiers from Israel and more than 450 New Jersey supporters. For more information or to support FIDF, please visit: https://fidf.org/njgala.

The writer is a cantor and music director at a Teaneck synagogue, and a member of the FIDF New Jersey planning committee. She was born in Israel, grew up in White Plains, New York, and now lives in Teaneck with her family.

By Ronit Wolff Hanan

 

 

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