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The Silver Platter: A Memorial for Our Fallen Lone Soldiers

He slept on a park bench his first two nights in Israel.

He didn’t speak Hebrew.

He didn’t have family or friends to go to.

Yet Michael Levin, z”l, was committed with his entire being to enlist in the IDF, to serve and protect his country that he loved so deeply.

Michael was a lone soldier long before the term lone soldier became widely recognized. He left the comforts of his warm home in Philadelphia, his family and friends, and was thrown into a culture of life that had its challenges, to say the least.

It was Michael’s dream to open a lone soldier center dedicated to helping meet the emotional, physical, financial and spiritual needs of so many young men and women who left their homes to protect Israel.

Tragically, Michael was killed in Lebanon in 2006 before he was able to fulfill that dream.

This Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, close to 650 people gathered on the historical Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem and joined the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin and JNF to memorialize and pay tribute to the hundreds of lone soldiers, like Michael, who died protecting Israel.

I had the honor of sitting down with Michael’s mother, Harriet, before she spoke at the ceremony.

Harriet told me of a young boy who was born deeply connected to the Land of Israel and its people. A son who was fun and warm and sweetly mischievous. She described his Zionism “like a seed that just needed watering.”

Harriet shared what many children ask her: If she had known ahead of time what was going to happen to Michael, would she have stopped him from going to Israel and joining the army?

Through soft tears she answered, “Even though my heart breaks every single day and I miss him terribly, the answer is no. Michael’s life is no more important than any other life that was given so that we could have our homeland, our country, to be free.”

Tziki Aud, who was Michael Levin’s adopted father during his army service, knew he had to fulfill Michael’s dream and started the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin. Now under the direction of former lone soldiers Josh Flaster and Ari Kalker, the center is not only a major resource center for the nearly 7,000 lone soldiers currently serving from all over the world, it is also their home away from home in almost every sense of the meaning.

“There are still lone soldiers today who don’t have a bed, don’t have food, don’t have a home, don’t even have friends in this country,” Josh Flaster, national director of the Lone Soldier Center, told the crowd in his emotional address.

With the flag of Israel lowered at half-mast and the piercing sound of the shofar being blown somewhere over the soft hills of Jerusalem, Evie Steinberg spoke lovingly of her son Max Steinberg, z”l, who was killed in Gaza in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. Evie took the stage and began her speech with a deep breath. “OK Max,” she whispered, “I can do this.”

She described a son who was small in stature but big in heart. He was athletic, determined and a little firecracker on the field. A true force to be reckoned with.

“He was tiny, but he played like Goliath. And when he got knocked down, which was often, he’d pop right back up, dust himself off and get right back in the game.”

Evie told us that Max, who loved his family deeply, also fell deeply in love with Israel, its people and culture. That torch has now been passed to the rest of the family as they have each become connected to Israel in ways they never would have imagined.

“Our family has made the choice to turn grief into action,” Evie said.

“Max, because of you, we came to Israel, and like you, we fell in love with the land and its people… because of you we have learned not to live for ourselves, but to live for others and to help others. Thank you for making us better people.”

Tuvia Book, a very close friend of lone soldier Alex Singer, z”l, delivered a moving speech on behalf of Alex’s family. He described Alex as a gifted writer and artist, always smiling and confident.

Alex was killed on his 25th birthday when he ran to save his commanding officer who had been shot in an ambush attack in Southern Lebanon.

“From the depth of despair [of the Holocaust], to the heights of Independence,” Tuvia said in a broken voice, “the journey was only made possible by the bravery and selflessness of the heroic young men and women … who served and prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland and Jewish hope.”

Josh Brook, parent liaison at the Lone Soldier Center, highlighted this message of lone soldier selflessness, bravery and pure commitment to the security and existence of the Jewish nation and homeland in his emotional recitation of the poem “The Silver Platter” by Natan Alterman:

… Dressed in battle gear, dirty,

Shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly

To change garb, to wipe their brow

They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue and unrested,

Yet the dew of their youth

Is still seen on their head…..

Then a nation in tears and amazement

Will ask: “Who are you?”

And they will answer quietly, “We are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.”

For more information on the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin and its many programs, please visit www.LoneSoldierCenter.com.

By Esti Rosen Snukal

Esti Rosen Snukal made aliya with her family in 2012 from Teaneck and has been a contributor to The Jewish Link of New Jersey, documenting Israeli life as a new olah. Esti is a volunteer at The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin and an adopted mom to a current lone soldier from Highland Park, New Jersey.

Esti can be reached at [email protected]

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