The concept of a lone soldier refers to someone serving in the IDF without a family to provide support, comfort, and a place to rest.
Most of them are Jews who have come from overseas in order to serve in the IDF.email@example.com
The military makes provision, by virtue of assuring that they have an "adoptive family" (often a family friend, relative, or kibbutz) where the soldiers can spend weekends and other spare time. There's also a period of several months language training for those not already fluent, with the emphasis on the Hebrew essential for military service. The term of obligation is less than what Israelis must serve, and there are long holidays and a flight ticket home during the service, as well as a subsidized visit for parents to visit the soldier in Israel.
The program functions as part of the connection between Israel and overseas Jews. It provides an opportunity for service, taken by young people moved to strengthen their identity as Jews, and is meant to attract a high quality of immigrants concerned to serve as well as to benefit from Israel.
Several thousand are lone soldiers at any one time. Some serve in combat units, and there have been casualties. A Japanese friend described with pride his experiences near Hebron and Gaza, and asserted that he had more combat experience than the entire Japanese army.
An American described his experience as a sniper alongside Gaza on a Facebook posting that circulated widely.. He cited the unfairness of international criticism of IDF activity, and explained the need for two personnel to confirm orders prior to any shooting, and then a follow-up written report to be filed against the prospect of complaints..
The largest groups of lone soldiers are Americans and Russians, reflecting two of the largest Jewish communities outside of Israel.
We've met lone soldiers born in Israel, then moved overseas along with their parents, but who continued to think of themselves as Israeli. Others come from families not altogether happy or understanding about their motivation. A French soldier who remained to spend his life and raise a family in Israel described the initial opposition of his father, who felt that his son's decision to join the Israeli army would hurt his own career as an officer in the French army.
Some go home after their service. Others stay, sometimes with a life partner encountered in the army or soon after. Some accept Israeli citizenship, and those with roots that don't satisfy the Rabbinate may go through the IDF program of conversion. The IDF provides counselling and financial assistance to lone soldiers who wish to study in a Israeli college or university.
Israel's Declaration of Independence defined the Israel as a Jewish State, assured the right of Jews to migrate to Israel, and promised equal rights to non-Jews living in Israel.Over the years, politicians have gone beyond the Declaration of Independence and refer to Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Overseas activists wanting to affect Israel seek to gain leverage with similar terminology. A basic law entitled, "Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People" has been introduced in the Knesset, but did not progress through the procedures of enactment.
The issues of Israel's Jewish connections, and to which Jews, and what about non-Jewish Israelis remains one of the several things discussed but unlikely to be settled.
Individuals claiming leadership of Diaspora or world wide Jewish organizations are likely to get a hearing with Israel's Prime Minister and other ranking officials. Yet skeptics can doubt if the connection goes beyond a photo-op and pleasant words. More important for political decisions here are the weights of various parties in the Knesset, and overseas Jews do not vote in Israel.
Israel also has a restrictive policy with respect to absentee ballots. Those away from their official residence in Israel can ride for free on a bus to their home precinct on voting day. Soldiers can vote on their base, with their ballots sent home for counting. Individuals associated with a government or certain other public organizations, who are on duty overseas, can vote absentee. Ordinary citizens who are overseas on election day, and those who have left the country, cannot vote.
Overseas Jews' claims about Israel's dependence on their financial and/or political support have weakened with increases in Israel's economic, military, and political resources. An economy wealthier than those of Britain, France, Japan and close to those of Canada and Germany in GDP per capita, as well as subtle but significant relations with a number of Muslim governments means that Israel is no long the dependent country of past decades. We can quarrel and express sorrow about the distancing between Israelis and overseas cousins, but it appears to be a reality reflecting different interests. None of us know the future, so we shouldn't invest too much in the dire predictions of individuals affected by the self interests of their organizations here or elsewhere.
Israel is not only richer and more self-sufficient than in its not too distant past. It's also more complex socially. A bit more than 20 percent of the population is Arab, as is close to 40 percent of Jerusalem's population. Perhaps a half million of those who identify as Jews do not qualify as such in the files of the Rabbinate. Numerous East and Asians, Europeans and others come for a period of study, work, or as volunteers in one or another program. Some find a mate among Israelis. Some of them, and some others find ways to remain.
Walking by the primary school alongside our building, I've heard children speaking with their parents in an East Asian language or Arabic, then chatting in Hebrew with classmates.
Non-Orthodox religious activists have been persistent in recent years, demanding mixed prayer at the Western Wall, as well as equal rights for their rabbis with respect to approving candidates for conversion, marriage, and divorce.
One can debate if all forms of Judaism are the same or different religions, similar to the status of Catholicism, Orthodox congregations and the myriad of Protestant denominations under the Christian label. Evangelicals do not demand equal status in the Vatican, as Reform and Conservative Jews demand equal treatment for their rituals at the Western Wall, However, the history of nastiness and violence has clearly been greater among the followers of Christ than among descendants of his cousins who continue to call themselves Jews. Reform and Conservative Rabbis cite the Israeli Rabbinate for discrimination, and the ultra-Orthodox call the rest of us anti-Semites when we don't give them everything they want. However, we Jews haven't had a holy war among ourselves for two millennia, and there has not yet been a label matching the nastiness used by some Christians cursing the "Whore of Rome."
Peace among the Jews?
Non-violent conflict is our strength, and has something to do with a long record of literacy and greater intellectual accomplishments.
Against persistent conflict, however, several thousand overseas Jews serving as lone soldiers in the IDF at any one time suggests that we've been doing something right.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem