lone soldiers 370.
(photo credit: Einav Rimon)
The US-based Friends of the Israel Defense Forces held a three-day gathering for
lone soldiers at Dror Beach, south of Haifa, this week.
The event, which
aimed to express gratitude to the 3,000 lone soldiers (those without close
relatives in the country) serving in the military, included activities such as
ball games, marine sports and massages.
While several army
representatives visited the soldiers, this year’s guests of honor were the
founders of the New Jersey Chapter of Friends of the IDF, Sammy Bar-Or, Avi Oren
and Mike Gross.
The three men met some 40 years ago, while serving in the
Paratroop Brigade as lone soldiers.
Gross, from England, Oren, from
Israel and Bar-Or, who had made aliya alone at the age of 13, bonded over the
difficult experience of being lone soldiers in the 1970s, and shared a tent in
the field during training.
After their service, the they went their
separate ways and reconnected 15 years later in New York City.
early 2000s, after much time spent thinking about their past, Bar-Or, Oren and
Gross decided to contribute to the well-being of lone soldiers.
then, Mike was already doing a lot of charity and things for soldiers at the
time,” Bar-Or told The Jerusalem Post. “He used to bring things for them from
“Then in 2003, I visited the unit again with Mike, and I saw
that there are still soldiers who still don’t have a place to sleep, or enough
food to eat for Shabbat,” he recalled. “I remember how hard it was for me to
come back to my tiny room and do the washing, cooking, cleaning.”
year, they begun collecting donations for lone soldiers and organizing the
annual tribute days.
“It’s not just for them to have a good time and do
some fun stuff,” Bar-Or explained.
“They also interact with each other,
and it helps them realize that its not just their problem.”
accompanied the soldiers this week, Bar-Or said that he sees a lot of himself in
them, which sometimes makes him emotional.
“To be a lone soldier, at
least back then, you needed to have the attitude: You come for three years and
it doesn’t matter what you go through, it’s no big deal,” Gross told the Post.
“Today they take care of lone soldiers much more.
“I remember the worst
thing for me was basically all the ceremonies where they bring soldiers’
families and I had no one,” he said. “It’s still a problem.
is amazing, not just because it’s so beautiful, but because it’s so massive,”
Gross added. “We bring thousands of soldiers from the borders, they get to meet
friends who they never have time to see, and they have a great time
Bar-Or expressed a desire to continually improve their initiatives
for the lone soldiers.
“Now we want to create something for after the
service, because when you finish the army, you return everything and then you
really are alone,” he said.
Bar-Or and Gross agreed that organizing this
together with Oren was also something they much appreciate.
“We met 40
years ago, its amazing,” Gross said. “You can’t do this kind of thing without
commitment, and these guys are special guys.”
As for his advice to
current lone soldiers, Gross said: “Take it seriously, enjoy your time, and
don’t be scared to ask help if you need it.”