June 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Yoni Ha’Homeless: One Lone Soldier from Teaneck

Teaneck—When Yonatan Weisinger, a young man and brand-new lone soldier in the IDF from Teaneck, was just 4 years old, his Pre-K teacher at RYNJ had the children ask their parents who they were named after and to talk a little bit about the person. His mother, L’via, told him he was named after Yonatan Netanyahu who was killed in Entebbe while saving Jewish people from terrorists in Uganda. His brother became Israel’s Prime Minister.

The hijacking happened when L’via was about 9 years old and it made a lasting impression. She vowed that one day she would name her child after the hero who gave his life. She explained in simple terms what had happened so Yoni could understand and he told his teacher the story proudly the next day.

From that day on, Yoni was an Israeli soldier. He put on camouflage, olive green, IDF logo anything—hats, shirts, you name it. His grandmother bought him a kid’s IDF uniform for Purim. He played soldier, he played army guys, he spoke about moving to Israel and joining the army as soon as he was old enough. Every picture of that kid from his childhood has some IDF or army reference. His room is decorated top to bottom in IDF theme.

His parents often spoke of their dream of aliyah and instilled it in all their children, but he took it extremely seriously and to heart. He raised money for victims of terror at his 7th birthday party, forgoing fun gifts and toys. He joined Friends of the IDF at 12 years old and raised money leading up to his bar mitzvah for a lounge on an army base in the north—the plaque is hanging there in his honor. Working with contacts and family friends associated with the mechina in Eli (Bnei David Pre-Military Academy) he started a campaign to have his friends in America pray for a soldier in Israel every day, giving out dog tags with the soldier’s name on it for his friends to wear or attach to their tefillin bags to remind them.

Yoni and some of his friends still have those tags and pray for those soldiers all these years later. He spent every summer since age 12 in Israel with friends and relatives, forgoing sleep-a-away camp in the Poconos to learn Hebrew and soak up Israeli culture. His favorite place to be was with his cousins in Eli, where the abba is Colonel Yonatan Branski, Deputy Commander of the Gaza Division. Yonatan has been an extraordinary role model for Yoni and solidified Yoni’s commitment to being a career soldier once he had the chance.

Meanwhile, back at home, there were family health issues and the birth of a new baby to contend with. His parents wanted Yoni close to home and did not have the financial means to enable them to fulfill their dreams of aliyah. Yoni was miserable in 9th grade in a local yeshiva high school. All he could think about was going back to Israel. So the family applied to Na’ale, the Elite Academy, a high school program in Israel sponsored by the Jewish Agency for students from abroad…Long story, but by the end of the semester, Yoni had made up his mind and they let him stay with their very generous former neighbors, the Fulds in Chasmonaim. They spent lots of money for tutoring and Yoni went to Ulpan Or to speed up his Hebrew language acquisition, and finally, he was enrolled in Ner Tamid after jumping through several seemingly insurmountable hoops.

He took bagruyot and passed. He went on to 11th grade, and despite the living situation changing and having to leave the Fulds because of extenuating circumstances and needing to couch surf for six months with four families, he continued to take bagruyot, pass his exams, and developed a good name in the Chashmonaim community and beyond. He participated in B’nei Akiva and Noar Chashmonaim, the central youth group of the community, becoming an integral, vital part of the community, all on his own.

Then, for 12th grade, he convinced Yeshiva Tichonit Torani S’vivati in Mitzpeh Ramon (a high school with an environmental focus), a dormitory school, to take him. That’s something unheard of, to move schools just for 12th grade. He did this on his own, no protextzia, finding the school on his own and proving to them he was worth a shot. He went and made a good name for himself there as well, took his bagruyot, and passed with a bagrut diploma. During that year, he also developed a very special relationship with another family in Chashmonaim, total strangers to his family, native Israelis with no connections to the American community, who fell in love with him and have served as his home base for the last two years. They give him free room and board whenever he is on leave and have become a second family to him, parents, siblings and all.

Every summer Yoni came back to Teaneck, and every summer he asked to make official aliyah and his parents said to wait, to make sure he is ready, not to jump on youthful, immature enthusiasm, let’s see what happens and be practical. So he waited for their approval. Finally, he was ready, and at the age of 18, a high school graduate on the cusp of joining the IDF, he officially made Aliyah in the summer of 2012, along with 126 other young men and women joining the IDF as lone soldiers.

However, Yoni’s path to army service was not as direct as many on his flight. He made a conscious decision to prepare himself by enrolling in a mechina, a pre-military academy. He went around the country (literally, from north to south, spending a few days in each place) looking for the pre-military academy that would be a good fit to prepare him spiritually, emotionally and physically for his ultimate goal, to serve in the IDF by achieving the highest level of excellence possible. He was accepted into Mechinat Otzem, a prominent Mechina in the Negev near the Gaza border and near his cousin’s base. After six months, he decided to pursue his studies in a smaller mechina in N’vei Tzuf, north of Jerusalem. There, in Mechinat Elisha, he excelled in his studies and signed up for a second year, delaying his draft till March of this year. This was not an easy decision for someone who has been itching to don a real IDF uniform since he was 4 years old, but he realized that he needed more of the intense spiritual, emotional and physical preparation that the mechina was providing before he would be ready to embrace every challenge the IDF would offer.

In May, at the end of his first year, Yoni was asked speak at a national conference of mechinot at Binyanei Ha’Umah in Jerusalem, and spoke about his inspirational journey in front of thousands of fellow students from all over Israel. He got thunderous applause and admiration from his peers.

During a family visit to Israel, the family went to donate their 5-year-old’s hair to Zichron Menachem, an organization that helps kids with cancer and their families. While there, they were given a tour by a 19 year old  from Jerusalem serving sherut l’eumi. When they introduced themselves and Yoni, he started to explain his story a little bit and she interrupted and exclaimed with excitement and recognition, “Yoni Ha’Homeless!!”

Apparently, Yoni’s story is legendary and many people his age who he never even met knew about the kid in Chashmonaim who came and made Aliyah without his family and became a part of the community—known among them as “Yoni the Homeless.” She was so excited to finally meet this famous, crazy and inspirational young man! (They became friends and  he has volunteered at Zichron Menachem a few times since their visit). Knowing he was serving as an inspiration to young people around the country was humbling and motivating and Yoni continued to forge ahead to make his family and everyone, proud.

Yoni began his IDF service in the tank division, the day after Purim this year. After barely a month of service, he has already received an award for outstanding soldier/student of the month. The award describes his motivation and dedication to his training, but specifically notes his concern for and dedication to his fellow soldiers. His mother tells JLBC, “B’ezrat Hashem, I will be attending his Tekes Hash’ba’ah, swearing in ceremony, to be held the week of Yom Ha’atzmaut, and will bring lots and lots of tissues along with some of my famous brownies. Through tears of joy, pride and concern, I will pray that Hashem watch over him and all our soldiers as they protect our nation and our land from our enemies.”

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles