Bringing the True North to Canadian lone soldiers in the IDF

Aim of the event is to show the appreciation and care felt by the embassy for the lone soldiers who’ve left their home to serve in the IDF.

Dozens of Canadian lone soldiers gather at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Dozens of Canadian lone soldiers gather at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Dozens of Canadian lone soldiers gathered at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, in an event aimed at bringing some of the “True North” to soldiers serving Israel.
Organized by Ambassador Deborah Lyons, the aim of the event was to show the appreciation and care felt by the embassy for the lone soldiers who left their homes to serve in the IDF.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time ... since I started three years ago,” Lyons told The Jerusalem Post before the event. “It’s important to reach out to both Israelis and Canadians,” she continued, adding that the embassy has been doing a lot of outreach to various groups in the country. To her, “Canadian lone soldiers are a particularly special group. I know some of the parents of these kids and I wanted to reach out and let them know that their Canadian family of the embassy is here if they want to talk hockey and a home-cooked meal.”
Canada’s Defense Attache Col. Rick Thompson told the Post  “the ambassador thought it would be a nice gesture to reach out to Canadian lone soldiers and make some social connections and talk hockey ... If you get homesick, we embassy staff are connected to the wider Canadian community.”
There are more than 6,000 lone soldiers serving in the IDF. Many are highly motivated and serve in combat units.
According to Thompson, though the embassy invited all 78 Canadians currently serving in the IDF, a total of 33 attended the event. “We invited everyone but not everyone is available to come,” he said, explaining that some are currently deployed to the Golan Heights, Eilat and the Gaza border.
While Thompson told the Post that the event on Thursday was “primarily a networking event ... Representatives from all sections of the embassy will connect with the young soldiers and see if we can help them out if they have any questions or concerns.”
According to him, while the phenomenon of Canadian lone soldiers “is not secret,” outside the Jewish Canadian community, “it’s probably not as well known. The regular Joe Blow on the street might not know about it.”
Cpl. Ayala Rotenberg from Toronto, who was set to attend the event, serves in the Israel Air Force as a ground crew technician in the 133th Knights of The Twin Tail squadron at Tel Nof. Even though she is religious, she has always wanted to serve in the IDF, Rotenberg told the Post.
“I learned about Hannah Senesh and really wanted to be a paratrooper. I was sad when I learned that I couldn’t serve in the paratroopers, but I still wanted to serve my country.” After finishing an associates degree in mechanical engineering, Rotenberg was drafted into the Air Force, “and, thank God, I got the job I wanted.” She said, “It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress but I really enjoy it.”
Having served for five-and-a-half months, Rotenberg told the Post that she’s never felt isolated, despite not having her immediate family close by.
“I have always felt that everyone here wants to help, even when sometimes they don’t know how to help. Sometimes a sense of isolation comes from being afraid to ask, but once you ask everyone wants to help,” she said. “I think the hardest times are always the holidays because everyone goes to their family and I don’t have family here. I can’t say I miss Canada but I miss snow, winter sports, and the people in Canada. If they all made aliyah it would be so much better.”
Rotenberg said she was excited for the event. “I’m very excited to hear some English,” she said, explaining that after a long day in Hebrew, “sometimes I get to the end of the day and my brain is tired.”
Cpl. Yaakov Herman from Toronto, who made aliyah in September after studying in yeshiva for the past two years, also attend the event and was excited to see his friends there.
Herman, who serves in the Nahal Brigade, wanted to make aliyah from a very young age. “I knew quite a few people coming in,” he said, explaining that while he doesn’t feel homesick for Canada, he does miss his younger brothers and dogs. Nevertheless, he said, “I’m enjoying the army. For the guys around me, the guys from yeshiva, we are all doing really well.” He explained, “The other guys know I’m a lone soldier but I don’t think it makes a difference ... sometimes you need to ask for certain things from the officers and commanders in a not-so-Canadian way, but for the most part they aren’t easier or harder for me because I’m a lone soldier.”
Herman told the Post that in addition to his friends, he was looking forward to some good food.
When asked if there would be any touches of Canada at the event, such as popular Canadian snacks like poutine or the sweet Canadian desert called ‘beaver tails,’ Thompson said that the soldiers will be able to have kosher butter tarts and Nanaimo bars, and that “boxes will be available for the soldiers so they can take Canadian treats home.”
The ambassador said she hopes this will be the first of many such events. “This is something we want to do on a yearly basis to show our support,” she said. “The embassy is here at the other end of the line for lone soldiers if they want to drop in.”