lone soldiers

Lone soldiers gather for Rosh Hashanah.

About half of lone soldiers, who come from 80 countries around the world to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), will experience their worst loneliness during the upcoming holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The other half are Israelis who have no family or are not welcome to come to their family’s home.

The fact that their Israeli comrades with loving families get to go home and have all their needs taken care of tends to worsen lone soldiers’ homesickness. By comparison, because of the high cost of rentals in Israel, many lone soldiers are living in a modestly furnished apartment with several other lone soldiers and must shop for all of their own meals. The Jewish holidays represent a gathering time for family and friends, the memories of which will be strong while they are in Israel. Protecting Israel in the IDF is both physically and emotionally exhausting, keeping Lone Soldiers continuously busy. The holidays offer time for reflection and memories. 

Fortunately, lone soldiers’ centers in Israel provide a warm, welcoming place to gather for holidays, prayer and enjoyable holiday meals. These events could never duplicate the tenderness of being with family, close friends or bubbe’s famous chicken soup, but the experience provides a satisfying and emotionally rewarding alternative. Socializing with peers in similar circumstances, create and sustain a network of friends supporting each other and for recreation, often through the center’s long list of activities.

The Lone Soldier Project at the East Valley Jewish Community Center partners with three of these lone soldier centers: Chayal el Chayal. The Michael Levin Memorial Lone Soldier Center (the biggest in Israel with multiple locations) and Osey Chail Association (for Israeli lone soldiers who are no longer welcome in their Haredi family homes). These centers’ mission is to support active-duty lone soldiers and to educate the community about the important role these courageous and dedicated Jewish young adults play in defending the Jewish homeland. Donations to the project pass through to the centers to pay for Shabbat and holiday meals. They also send home-knitted hats for cold-weather assignments. Their annual Hanukkah Greeting Campaign introduces the role of lone soldiers to hundreds of students, at 35 sites throughout the state, who then create Hanukkah greetings and messages for lone soldiers.

For more information, visit evjcc.org/lone-soldier-project.

Dr. Michael Cohen is the coordinator of the Lone Soldier Project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center.