One of the more unintended results of the current war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has been the discovery by many Israelis of “the lone soldier.” While this came amid tragic circumstances, it is incumbent upon us to channel this discovery for good.
Three soldiers, Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg from the United States and Jordan Ben-Simon from France, were killed in the early days of the ground battle.
All three were defined as lone soldiers; those serving in the army without the local support network of parents and close family.
Almost instantly, they became treasured members of the Israeli family, honored with full military funerals and saluted by the general public and our national media as modern Jewish heroes.
The funerals of these young men attracted massive public participation with tens of thousands of mourners, exceeding the scope of most Israeli memorials, even those held for career officers or revered public figures. The vast majority of those gathered in the cemetery had never met the deceased.
Certainly it was not only their deaths which brought them public recognition, but more so their brave decisions to leave behind lives abroad and volunteer in our army.
The very valid question on the minds of many Israelis, and the reason so many came out to attend these funerals was what motivates someone to abandon their lives abroad and come and serve in the IDF? In light of this public response and interest, this idea of a “lone soldier” must now inspire our Israeli community to re-examine our relationship with immigrants who have bravely chosen to come and live among us.
Every year, thousands of people from around the world come and experience Israel with the goal of getting to know the country on an intimate level – and not just as tourists. They arrive to participate in all sorts of different programs; yeshivot, seminaries, university study and most notably Birthright. In large numbers, they fall in love with our land and then often choose to leave behind lives of comfort and certainty in the West in favor of a new life infused with a heightened sense of purpose and meaning.
These people are true ideologues, Jews who reinvigorate the ideals of Zionism that sometimes seem to be forgotten within our fast-paced modern society.
While we all have a concept in our mind of what the Israeli pioneer is, namely people who sowed the fields and dried the marshes, I would contend that through their sacrifices and commitment to our country, these young men and women are Israel’s modern-day pioneers and should serve as much of an inspiration as did those of the pre-state period.
Yet, despite their eagerness and zeal, the reality is that the absorption process for many of these people is often difficult. Regrettably they are rarely afforded the warm welcome they deserve.
As veteran Israelis we know that we often fail in our responsibilities when it comes to choosing to live, study, pray or work alongside new arrivals, regardless of their countries of origin.
The deaths of these three young heroes produced a reaction of unity that must be acknowledged and even celebrated in order to change this Israeli mindset regarding immigrants. While they heroically gave their lives in the defense of our country, we must be sure to appreciate and salute their choice to move here not just in death but as much so in life.
On a very practical level, the Israeli people must be better prepared to reach out to new immigrants from all communities and welcome them into our homes and our lives. While we perhaps have different experiences and outlooks on life, these tragedies have taught us that ultimately here in Israel we have a common fate and must learn to experience that fate as one people.
The bitterly tragic deaths of Sean, Max and Jordan cannot have been in vain.
There can therefore be no better way to memorialize their lives than to ensure that while they were lone soldiers in name, their deaths must help inspire a new Israeli understanding of immigrants, according to which no new arrivals should never feel alone.
It is also the occasion to remind Israel that we cannot ever take for granted the ongoing contribution of aliya on all levels; social, cultural and economic. At a time when the world falsely seems to think that Zionism is waning, we must acknowledge that love and support for Israel is alive and strong.
In so remembering, I am confident that we will not only create a better Israeli society but also reaffirm our country as a welcoming haven for immigration and inspire the continued ingathering of the Jewish people from all corners of the earth.
The author is a rabbi and chairman of the TZOHAR rabbinical organization. www.tzohar.org.il.