Before making aliya, in the days before everyone had cellphones, I was the mother of lone soldiers. I can vividly remember where I was standing in shul one Shabbat morning when three children were serving as IDF soldiers on the same weekend. One son was on the border with Lebanon, another son was in Gaza, and a daughter was on duty in Ramle. I still follow lone soldier and Anglo soldier parent Facebook pages regularly.
I mention all of this only because The Jerusalem Post Magazine cover story, “Equality in service, discrimination in service,” was not news to me. Parents have concerns. I am very familiar with issues involved with army service. After making aliya in 2006, I have tried to help lone soldiers whenever possible, from doing laundry late on Friday afternoon to cooking last-minute emergency Passover food for lone soldiers serving in a special unit off a regular base where no kosher meals were provided.
When quoting numbers of lone soldiers, one must remember that approximately 3,000 of the 6,000 are Israeli. Israeli lone soldiers do not have the luxury of parents writing letters in support of them to journalists or reaching out to officers in the IDF. For they have no support from their families, which is why they are truly lone soldiers. They are alone.
TZIKI AUD of the Lone Soldier Center (LSC) in memory of Michael Levin has a long list of sad stories and cases to share. According to Aud, these are all good kids, they are the cream of the crop. But there is no framework in place to help them.
Many Israeli lone soldiers were “street children.” As soon as they turn 18, all government support is stopped. One mother went back to Russia and left an 11-year-old son behind. He was in boarding school until he went into the army. However, the army can take seven months to a year for recognition, and until then they are on their own with no financial support. Even with her position as a member of Knesset, it took Anat Berko (Likud) four months to adopt two lone-soldier orphans.
Forty percent of Israeli lone soldiers left home as young as 14 years of age. One 12-year-old did not want to go to yeshiva and was taken in by a grandfather. When his grandfather died, the only place for him was the street.
Y. was from a family of great rabbis. When he was on the streets there was occasional interaction. But when he enlisted in the army, his family ended all contact with him.
At a Hanukka party for lone soldiers, Aud introduced two young men he thought would have something in common. It turned out they were first cousins. When the older one joined the IDF, his family cut him off. For five years they had not seen or heard of each other.
Witnessing the growing phenomenon, Aud has dedicated the last three years to helping this group of Israeli lone soldiers and has spearheaded a new department at the LSC to deal with their special needs.
ON INDEPENDENCE Day the LSC sponsors a huge barbecue in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park. Every year hundreds of present and former lone soldiers attend. A few years ago, to reserve the desired location, a volunteer arrived at dawn. He was surprised to find a young soldier sleeping next to his rifle in the park. Nearby, Beit Hahayal (the soldiers’ hostel) was full, so with nowhere to go, he had slept in the park.
On hearing this, Aud responded that “no soldier of Israel should have to sleep in a park.”
After serving two years in the Paratroop Brigade, with assistance the young man was able to enter the Hebrew University mechina (preparatory year) and was accepted to the Hebrew University.
A. used to remove old land mines. When asked why he took such a dangerous job, he answered, “No one will sit shiva [mourn] for me.” Taken from his home at the age of six, he was too young to remember who placed him in the boarding school. After a while, he ran away and lived on the street until the army. But for years, on Friday nights, he would go sit near his old street, in the old neighborhood, and watch for family. Week after week, he would wait, hoping someone would notice him. No one ever did; no one invited or took him in.
Also, there are runaways from Jerusalem English-speaking homes where parents came on aliya and became ultra- Orthodox.
“You have a 20-year-old doing what our kids of seven do,” said Aud. After the army, these former lone soldiers need to learn basics. They first need laptops, used or good condition, and to get an education.
Each case is unique. One orphan was fond of drawing. Aud sent him to an open day in a Tel Aviv art school. When the young man showed his drawing book, he was allowed to register without matriculation and received an artist to guide him.
“Open your eyes, find the oldest, most caring person on the panel and tell them your story,” Aud advised the orphan, “your future depends on it.” The young artist was accepted and, with help from donors and scholarships, got through the year. But next came the problem of raising money for insurance and exhibitions.
THE CASES, stories and needs go on. Many of the Israeli lone soldiers are too shy or ashamed to ask for help. They would rather sleep with their rifles in the tubes in which children play in the parks by day.
While lone soldiers from overseas have their families worrying, following up complaints with commanders and sending letters to writers like Yossi Melman to get published in the mainstream media, I think more attention must go to Israeli lone soldiers who have no family to help them, who are struggling alone.
This is a terrible situation most people, even those living in Israel for decades, have no idea exists. Some do not want to know. However, these stories have to be told, and this situation has to be examined and corrected.
My information and examples are true stories obtained in personal interviews with Aud. He has many more of these stories to share, but these were a few I recorded and cannot forget.
There are thousands of Israeli lone soldiers dealing with real hardships. We need to help them, and we need to help them now.
For more information visit https://lonesoldiercenter.com
The author is a photographer and writer who made aliya, after living in the US, Canada and Australia. http://rjstreets.com
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