When Michaela (Mica) Levit joined the Israeli military in November of 2017, her parents knew she was going to be a fighter, but last week she was found dead outside her base in central Israel.
“We knew she wasn’t going to go anywhere else in the army,” her mother Orit Levit told The Jerusalem Post. “She told us she wasn’t going to Israel to be a secretary, she wanted to be a fighter. We knew that if she was going, she wouldn’t do anything else.”
Levit described her daughter as “full of life, positive and happy,” as someone who was always encouraging and supporting her friends in times of need and the life of the party and “glue of the group” during the happier moments.
“She loved everyone, she never had bad word to say... She was so good to her family, never wanted us to worry, to disappoint us. She was an angel.”
What happened “wasn’t anything we expected of her,” Orit said.
“I never felt she was isolated in Israel, she had the support of extended family. She had so many invitations and she told me 'Mum, sometimes I feel bad that I want to stay home on the weekends.’”
And it wasn’t only family, Orit said. “A lot of her friends are sending condolences and [saying] that their hearts are broken and that they will never meet another person like her... She had a community.”
Orit’s middle child, Mica, moved to Israel in June 2017 and settled at Kibbutz Kinneret, where she took ulpan classes before joining the IDF through the Garin Tzabar program in November, drafting into the mixed Caracal combat battalion. She had just moved to an apartment with other lone soldiers in Hadera and was going through the army’s team leader training course (Course Makim) when she took her life.
“She decided that she wanted to join the army when she was 16 years old. She wanted to be a commander, she really did. She called me a week before this happened and told me that she passed all of her fitness tests and was doing really well,” Orit said.
According to Orit, the army has been “very helpful” and supportive to the family. She told the Post
that she spoke to the commander of Caracal who called Mica a “strong woman who was full of life.”
Soldiers who commit suicide are officially defined as “suspected suicides” until the Military Police have finished investigating their case. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told the Post
on Tuesday that her case is still being investigated.
During their service, lone soldiers are entitled to assistance from the state, including monthly living stipends, discounts on electricity bills, exemption from municipal taxes, rental assistance or lodging provided by the Aguda Lemaan Hahayal (Soldier’s Welfare Association) and extra financial support for combat soldiers.
Once they complete their military service, lone soldiers receive NIS 12,000 over the course of one year from the army, the option to live for three months in a Beit Hahayal and preparation and financial help to complete their matriculation and psychometric exams.
But the annual State Comptroller report has found major deficiencies in how the military deals with lone soldiers whose needs the IDF has not fully examined.
In a worrying trend denied by the IDF, 19 year-old Levit was the third lone soldier to have taken their life in 2019. The high number of suicides in just the first half of the year has led to growing criticism by both politicians and immigrant groups.
Alex Sasaki was found dead of an apparent overdose in March, and Stephan Martinetz reportedly hung himself in a lone soldier center in Haifa after seeking help for mental health problems on numerous occasions. Another lone soldier was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in November 2018.
But according to IDF figures released in January, there was a significant decrease in the number of suicides in the IDF in 2018, with only eight of 43 deaths having been ruled as suicides.
In comparison to the previous three years where suicide had been the leading cause of death in the Israel Defense Forces, the majority of fatalities in 2018 were due to car accidents.
But following the death of Sasaki, a US-born lone soldier serving in the Golani brigade, the director of KeepOlim – an NGO providing support for new immigrants – denounced the lack of basic support services for lone soldiers, calling their situation “deplorable.”
“I blame every person who agreed to bring soldiers here and not provide the proper services and support for the needs of the soldiers,” said KeepOlim director LiAmi Lawrence, adding that in their of their network of 40,000 new immigrants, there have been 10 suicides and drug overdoses over the last four years, five of whom were lone soldiers either during or after their service.
Outgoing MK Ksenia Svetlova also voiced her outrage, lashing out at the military on Twitter and urging Jews living abroad not to join the IDF until the situation changed.
“Young men and women arrive in Israel infused with the Zionist mission and are returning to their parents abroad in coffins,” she said. “Not in a heroic battle but with a shot to the head, an overdose of painkillers, hanging, or something else. Everyone is outraged and nothing changes.”
While Sasaki likely died of a drug overdose, although whether or not he intended to commit suicide is unclear, the IDF says it is still investigating.
For Orit Levit, she told the Post
that had she known of the worrying trend, she would have acted differently with her daughter.
“I don’t think there is enough support, there is more that can be done. Does the army support them? Yes. But there is much more that can be done for these kids in terms of mental support,” she said. “The army supports them, but these kids can be helped with mental health support. They aren’t the same as regular soldiers from Israel. They need more support.”
“If I can do anything, it's to make sure that no other soldier has to come back in a casket.”
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.