An orphan in uniform

US-born Adam Rabinowitz is a 'lone soldier' in more ways than one.

lone soldier 224.88 (photo credit: )
lone soldier 224.88
(photo credit: )
Adam Rabinowitz is in his first year serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and he's still getting used to the food. "I thought it would be much worse," he said. When he goes home to Netanya on the weekends, his home is empty save for his 17-year-old younger brother, Michael. Michael is by himself all week, as one of his older brothers is serving in the IDF, his other brother is in America and their parents both died within the last four years. Rabinowitz is a hayal boded, or lone soldier. His story is different from most lone soldiers', many of whom leave their families and native countries voluntarily to come serve Israel for two to three years in the military. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to an American mother, Lori, and a South African father, Jon, Rabinowitz moved here with his parents and two brothers, Michael and Justin, when he was six. The family lived first in Tiberias and eventually settled in Netanya. His childhood sentiment of feeling somewhat foreign has faded, especially since joining the IDF and "feeling even more Israeli, and bonded with everyone." His choice to enlist during a time when more and more of Israel's youth evades the draft comes as a surprise to many he meets, not because he is American-born, but because he has been the head of his household since his mother died of breast cancer in 2003 and his father of heart disease just seven months ago, a mere three months before Rabinowitz was to be called up for service. "They gave me the option to stay in the army and go into combat or be a jobnik [a soldier in a noncombat role] or leave," said Rabinowitz. "I chose to stay, to go into a combat unit, to defend the country and to prove to myself that I could do it. I never thought I would finish basic training." To look at him is to see an unlikely candidate for Givati, the infantry brigade of the IDF stationed in the South, with his quiet nature and soft smile. "He's not the skinniest, or the tallest, or the fastest, but he does everything from a deep place in his heart and with purpose," said his commander, Bernard Greenberg. "He gives 150 percent and I'm really glad that he's with me." Rabinowitz remains confident in his choice to not only enlist, but also to join a combat unit, despite the higher risk. Besides being "more interesting than paper pushing for three years," it was a decision supported by both of his parents; his father who served in the South African Army, and his mom, who "knew that part of coming here is this job to defend it." "It's not a distraction," Rabinowitz said of his circumstances, but he is "scared more - I think twice about everything. If something happens, what will happen to Michael?" With their older brother, Justin, living and going to college in Florida, Adam and Michael, a senior in high school, are practically alone, with only "a few cousins of their dad's" in Israel. Financially, the boys are on their own, supported in part by the doubled salary and rent subsidy (up to 779 shekels per month) that the IDF allots lone soldiers. Things have not always been easy - they had to give away two of their three cats because "it just got to be too expensive," said Rabinowitz. The IDF grants Rabinowitz leave to go home every weekend without exception, where he and Michael maintain a tradition of Friday night dinners, eating and cooking together and "sleeping in a lot - the more the better." They share a small apartment in Netanya filled with most of the furniture from their previous family home, plus a few special items: their mom's memory box stocked with old photos, their dad's awards for his work as a chef for the American Embassy. It is a haven of sorts, "without the discipline, being told what to do" of the army, although depending on what week is coming up, Rabinowitz is "happy to get back." The two youngest brothers have gotten closer in the past year. Rabinowitz said that it was difficult when other soldiers' parents call or send gifts. "I only have one brother here," said Rabinowitz, and it is important to both of them that Michael be at big events, such as the ceremony where he received the purple beret of Givati. Rabinowitz is taking things one day at a time as Michael approaches his own draft and considers joining the American army or the Marines, a decision Adam would support even if it means he would be left alone in Israel. In the meantime, he enjoys time spent in the field and on firing ranges and letting the future stay distant, because "who knows what will be next year?" said Rabinowitz. "That's the Israeli way of thinking."