Numerous documents, long lines and some good old-fashioned pushing and shoving – the scene at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hachayal (Soldiers House) on Thursday looked like the Interior Ministry on steroids. But luckily for some 1,500 IDF lone soldiers, they could condense the frustration that accompanies bureaucratic errands into one short day, as all the necessary government ministries and service providers came to them.
From driving tests and banking, to taxes and everything in between, Nefesh B’Nefesh and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) joined forces to create the annual “personal errands day” for lone soldiers, who come to Israel without their immediate families and volunteer to serve in the IDF.
“As our Lone Soldiers Program continues to grow, we are proud to expand the ways we support our brave lone soldiers, such as help them minimize the time they have to spend on personal errands on their precious time away from the army,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
All lone soldiers are entitled once every two months to take a personal errands day to attend to bureaucratic paperwork, banking and other essential matters. Many find, however, that this is not a sufficient amount of time to complete those duties, which led to the initiation of Personal Errands Day in 2014.
“For me it is emotional to see these incredible olim, speaking multiple languages, gathered under one roof, unified in Zionism and dedicated service,” said Fass. “This day is aimed at showing them how grateful we are.”
Several politicians also came to show their gratitude, including Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Interior Minister Arye Deri, Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, chairman of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Avraham Neguise, and Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren.
The latter stuck around long after the photo-ops and statements to the media were made in order to converse with the youngsters; a former lone soldier himself, the event struck a chord with Oren.
“Forty years ago I was a lone soldier in the paratroopers,” the American-born minister told The Jerusalem Post
. “And we had nothing. We had no food, no laundry, certainly nothing remotely like this. An event like this is a source of great inspiration to me – it’s deeply moving.
“I’m so impressed by these young people and I think that the service of being a lone soldier is not only a tremendous contribution to the security of the state, but it’s the way that we strengthen our relationship with the Jewish world,” he added, expressing hope that most of the lone soldiers would continue living in Israel after their service, but that those who return to their countries of origin will continue to be “outstanding supporters” of Israel.
The lone soldiers hail from some 70 countries around the world.
Ron Volkmar, 20, is among those likely to return to the US after his service. Volkmar makes instructional videos for the air force and intends to continue in the field of video editing when he enters the professional world.
“LA is the hub for video editing,” he tells the Post, explaining his plan to return to his hometown and make a name for himself in the business, leaving open the option of returning to Israel in the future.
“I think it’s wonderful that they’re doing this,” he says of the event. “To put everything that is bureaucratically important in one place, I think it really helps lone soldiers in getting everything done in one day rather than having to go to all different places in Israel... especially since lone soldiers don’t really have anyone here to help them... they have to worry about it on their own.”
Volkmar was talking to the Post after having enjoyed a massage – one of a host of recreational activities available to soldiers seeking some respite. Between stations, soldiers could play games, or refuel with sandwiches, cotton candy, popcorn and pancakes.
On the ground floor, one soldier stared despairingly at the long line for getting a driver’s license.
But those who braved the line could walk out with a new license after taking an on-the-spot driving test and completing a process which often takes months.
Asher Maizels, 23, had advanced to the front of the line, waiting to convert his Canadian license to an Israeli one. “Should be at the front soon,” grins the paratrooper, noting that he’s been waiting for “a little bit of time but it’s moving along, considering the process that it is.” Also on Maizel’s list is getting an Israeli passport.
Meanwhile Franz Kuznetsov, 21, a combat soldier and oleh from Kazakhstan, is using the time to get some banking done. “This day really helps,” he said, saying it would be hard to find the time without it.
“Being a newcomer is not easy – being a newcomer who is also a soldier is a far greater challenge,” said Landver. “The decision to leave home, family and friends to move to Israel and put on the khaki uniform to serve the people of Israel and State of Israel is not simple and it is a source of immense pride – it’s a great honor.”
She said the authorities must work to eliminate red tape in order to help soldiers in every way possible.
“In this way we will make the IDF and the State of Israel a warm and loving home for the soldiers, and we’ll provide them the loving family that they lack in Israel.”
Kahlon expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “It is not a given that an 18-year-old would leave everything they know and come alone to serve in an army across the world. The State of Israel is the home of all the Jewish people, and your home too, which is why you’re here with us today. We love you and appreciate your service.
“This appreciation goes beyond mere words, which is why we increased your salary by 50%. It is not easy being away from home while serving in the army, not for native Israelis, and certainly not for olim. We as a country will make every effort to assist you in your military service – and settle in the country to build your home with us here in Israel.”