An IDF soldier stands guard during a tour made by Israeli parliament members in the Jordan Valley [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A third of all immigrant lone soldiers who want to stay in Israel leave because they struggle financially, but increased government aid could encourage more of them to stay, MKs in the Caucus for Lone Soldiers said Monday.
A report by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center found that half of lone immigrant soldiers – meaning IDF soldiers who have no immediate family in Israel – choose to leave Israel immediately after their service. Of the half that choose to stay in Israel, another third leave within a short time of finishing their IDF service.
There are currently 3,687 lone immigrant soldiers in the IDF, and 1,200-1,400 enlist each year.
During their IDF service, lone soldiers receive help in paying rent and buying basic items. But upon completing their service, they do not receive any more aid from the Defense Ministry than other soldiers as they begin their lives in a new country without family.
David Feldman, a former lone soldier from Los Angeles who remained in Israel after being demobilized, explained “Israelis leave the army to a warm home with food, Internet and a family. That gives them the opportunity to save money to study, to go on trips, whatever they want.
“For lone soldiers, our journey in Israel only begins the day we finish our service,” he added. “The second we are done, there is no more money for rent, no more mess room, no more clothes – we can’t wear our uniforms anymore – and we don’t have our closest friends, because the army was our whole lives.”
Caucus co-chairman MK Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union) called for a “new contract” between the state and lone soldiers. “You gave us three years, on you, and we’ll give you three years, on us.
“When we see the people of Israel go to a lone soldier’s funeral, we see how special our nation is and how much solidarity we have,” Shmuly continued, referring to the tens of thousands who went to the funerals of lone soldiers in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, “but we need to ask ourselves what we do routinely, and not just when there is an emergency.”
Caucus co-chairman MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), himself a former lone soldier, said that he has met many immigrant soldiers who do not know their rights after finishing their service.
“They don’t stay in Israel, even though they’re an asset for us. They are young Jews from around the world who, for reasons of Zionism, volunteer to defend our homeland and in combat units. We must take responsibility for their integration in Israeli society,” he stated.
Oren called for an office to be created to help lone soldiers who finish their service.
Caucus co-chairwoman MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) called for “strategic thinking” about how to solve the problem.
At the caucus meeting the MKs honored Lt.-Col. Tzvika Levy (res.), the “father of lone soldiers,” who over the past 25 years has helped more than 20,000 lone soldiers find housing on kibbutzim and otherwise mentored them.
The caucus decided to recommend that Levy be awarded the Israel Prize in recognition of his work.
Shmuly said of Levy, “There is a vacuum in the issue of lone soldiers, and a special force, the force of one man, entered that vacuum. You represent the values of solidarity and giving. Israel, in the few years of its existence, is a wonder, because of people like you.”
Kibbutz Movement secretary-general Nir Meir, who is currently abroad, sent Levy a message of appreciation, saying he did his life’s work within the Kibbutz Movement by placing thousands of soldiers in more than 150 kibbutzim, providing “a warm and loving home during their IDF service.”
“Tzvika brought in all IDF units and their commanders and the Defense Ministry with his volunteering spirit for those who contribute to the state,” Meir stated.