A new home run by the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin (LSC) has officially opened its doors for religious lone soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces.The four-story apartment currently houses 10 lone soldiers from Canada, the United States, England and South Africa.Leaving their immediate families behind in order to serve in the IDF is not the only challenge facing lone soldiers who come to Israel from abroad. According to Ari Kalker, the center’s director of special projects, finding housing is one of the most common issues that lone soldiers must contend with, having to deal with difficult landlords or squalid living conditions.“Every day, lone soldiers contact the center with a myriad of issues and problems that come up. After eight years of handling those calls, we found that one of the most pressing issues for lone soldiers is finding adequate housing,” Kalker explains.“It’s hard to be a good soldier when you’re worried about rent, a crazy landlord or you find yourself coming back from base to sleep in a tiny storage room completely on your own.”The LSC, which organizes a variety of programs to assist lone soldiers and former lone soldiers, therefore decided to open a home in Jerusalem to meet the needs of lone soldiers living in Israel on their own, making the new housing project a community-oriented one. Called the Lone Soldier Home in Jerusalem, the house is located in the neighborhood of Mekor Haim, with which Kalker is familiar, having lived there with his family.
“We are providing more than just a house to sleep in,” says Kalker, who is a former lone soldier himself. “The Mekor Haim community is very supportive of lone soldiers, and community members host the soldiers in their homes for Shabbat. We are also connected with a rabbi and have a counselor who lives with the soldiers who was himself a lone soldier. He is a trained adviser and checks in with the guys all the time, making sure they are okay – kind of like an older brother.”Kalker says that Jerusalem is a popular city among Anglo lone soldiers, so the LSC decided to carry out the pilot project in the capital. The soldiers pay a subsidized rent for the accommodations and do not have to deal directly with the landlord but rather with the center, which acts as the liaison.The center also takes care of home maintenance and repairs.Kalker and volunteers from the LSC cleaned and fixed up the apartment before the soldiers moved in, creating a garden and installing items such as washers and dryers, a TV and a grill, which were donated by a group of parents of lone soldiers. They also painted the walls. The kitchen is filled with food, and Jewish holy books line the living room wall.“This is a real community effort,” says Kalker. “We want the soldiers to be comfortable and not feel like they are in someone else’s house. The idea is to help them integrate as smoothly as possible into Israel during their army experience by setting up a solid foundation and a real support system.”In the middle of the interview, which took place in the backyard of the Lone Soldier Home, a neighbor opened her window and proffered two packages of chocolate wafers for her new neighbors.“She’s always feeding us,” says one of the soldiers with a smile. “Last Shabbat, she brought over a cake. And we help her out, too. A couple of weeks ago, we fixed her TV.”For Yered Stufflebeam, 19, the situation is ideal. He is the third in his family to join the IDF, with two older brothers serving in the Golani Brigade. “I was looking for a place to live in Jerusalem, and then I met Ari Kalker,” he recounts.Stufflebeam, who was studying Hebrew at an ulpan at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, attended a session about the center that Kalker presented to the ulpan.“I asked Ari if he knew of any available housing for lone soldiers, and the rest is history. It’s been great living here,” says Stufflebeam, who moved into the new home on March 1. “My roommates are really nice, and the neighbors are great.”Wearing a red kippa with the Indiana University logo stitched into the design, Stufflebeam, who moved from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh when he was in high school, says he wants to go into the Nahal unit.“My family has wanted to make aliya since I was a little kid,” he recalls. “It had always been a dream of mine to serve in the IDF. My mom is a Jewish mother, so she’s worried all the time, but she’s very proud to have three children move to Israel and serve in the Israeli army. And so is my dad,” he says.“I’m very excited and nervous about my service because it’s a new chapter in my life,” he adds.Stufflebeam’s mother, Stacie, is also involved with the Lone Soldier Center. She serves as the organization’s coordinator for the delegation of lone soldiers and supporters that will be participating for the first time in the annual Israel Day Parade held in New York City on June 5.
The Lone Soldier Home in Jerusalem is a personal project for Kalker, who served in the IDF together with Michael Levine, a lone soldier from Philadelphia who fell battling Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.“The Lone Soldier Center was Michael’s idea, and it’s been my life mission, along with others, to make the center work for the lone soldiers who need our help,” says Kalker of the nonprofit organization that was established in 2009.“The lone soldier experience is very real to us, and we know what lone soldiers need because of our own experiences,” he continues. “The Lone Soldier Center is made up of a network of staff and people who are former lone soldiers that take their experiences and help other new soldiers out. We believe that the better your experience during your army service, the better your aliya.”The Lone Soldier Center plans to expand the housing project, and Kalker is looking for the next building.“My vision is to open a house for 60 lone soldiers. But real estate in Jerusalem is expensive. Our next housing project will be a girls-only house,” he says.With more than 6,000 lone soldiers serving in the IDF, the LSC has more than 300 dedicated volunteers. The center provides monthly Shabbat meals for lone soldiers, seminars and social events, as well as food, laundry and basic necessities. The LSC is now raising funds to provide Passover supermarket vouchers so that lone soldiers who receive time off from the army will be able to purchase enough items at the supermarket for the holiday.“A goodie bag is nice every once in a while,” says Kalker, “but lone soldiers need much more. We do everything we can to provide them with support and a sense of family here in Israel.” For more information about activities of the Lone Soldier Center, contact Ari Kalker at firstname.lastname@example.org.