A new lone-soldier initiative

"They are doing their job as the guardians of our nation, and you are doing your job as mothers," Rivlin said. "God bless you."

A new lone soldier initiative (photo credit: GPO)
A new lone soldier initiative
(photo credit: GPO)
Lori Palatnik, founding director of MOMentum – a global initiative that empowers women, especially mothers, to transform themselves, their families, their communities, and the world – was tremendously excited when speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Yet another dream of the Orthodox outreach educator, author, blogger and public speaker from Rockville, Maryland, had been realized.
A mother of five and the wife of Rabbi Yaakov Palatnik, Palatnik was also the founding director of the Jewish Women Renaissance Project, which encouraged women – particularly those with school age children – to connect to Jewish values, engage in Israel, and utilize their experiences to activate other Jewish initiatives.
In May, in the course of its 10th anniversary celebrations, the project rebranded itself into MOMentum – with the emphasis on the first syllable.
Palatnik’s son Zev, a sharpshooter, served in Israel as a lone soldier. While being enormously proud of him, she was well aware of the emotional hardships suffered by mothers whose children are serving in armies far from home.
For this reason, she thought it was important to bring mothers of lone soldiers serving in Israel to meet with Israeli mothers of past and present soldier sons and daughters and to learn from their experiences.
Her big dream – to organize a MOMentum trip to Israel for mothers of lone soldiers from English-speaking countries – became a reality when her organization entered into a partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.
There are some 35 mothers of lone soldiers among a 300-strong MOMentum group currently touring Israel.
The busload of moms from the US, Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom came to Jerusalem on Thursday morning to meet with President Reuven Rivlin, who told them, “We are family.”
He said that he makes a point of hosting two or three lone soldiers at his Seder table every year. “They are doing their job as the guardians of our nation, and you are doing your job as mothers,” said Rivlin. “God bless you.”
The group of mothers runs the gamut from ultra-Orthodox to completely secular. What they have in common is concern for their children who are serving in Israel, and pride that they are doing so.
COMPARING NOTES with each other along the way, one said she thought that the IDF was the best means of integrating people from different backgrounds into a united force.
Another was worried that her religious son might veer away from the values that he had learned at home, and was assured that if necessary, he could be transferred to a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) unit.
Another mother had been genuinely surprised when told that her son wanted to join the Israeli army. “We never even had toy plastic guns in the house,” she said in amazement. But she hadn’t tried to stop him.
Dalia Khakshoor of Great Neck, New York, had never imagined that her daughter Maayan would want to join the army, and had initially tried to talk her out of it. But Maayan was determined. She enlisted in 2018, serves in the IDF’s Search and Rescue Unit, and on Israel Independence Day was awarded an Outstanding Soldier certificate. Her mother now admits to never being prouder of her daughter.
Without detracting from the importance of supporting lone soldiers during their period of service in Israel, Palatnik believes that their families also need support, starting with their mothers, who can support each other and in turn can be supported by the communities in which they live.
The mothers were joined in Jerusalem by Pamela Claman, a long-time Jerusalemite formerly from St. Louis, who lives with her husband, Abba, in the Old City. The Clamans are known for their gracious hospitality – on the Sabbath and Jewish festivals, they have 40 or more guests at their table, including many whom they have never met before. Soldiers are always welcome at the Clamans’ table.
They are also the founders of an organization called Thank Israeli Soldiers through which a special R&R Center was built in the Old City, where soldiers can relax but also take part in a series of educational programs that will benefit them after they complete their army service. The Clamans, their friends, and supporters of Thank Israeli Soldiers also go out to military bases to provide soldiers with personal needs, Independence Day barbecues, Hanukka doughnuts, and more.
Palatnik is already planning another two trips for mothers of lone soldiers, for groups from the former Soviet Union and South America.
In its previous incarnation, MOMentum brought more than 18,000 women from 29 countries to Israel. Palatnik plans to bring many more.
The current MOMentum mission is now touring much of the country, and mothers of lone soldiers expect to meet up with their sons and daughters at some stage, although there was nothing specific on their programs to indicate when and where.
The “when” is this Friday and Saturday when they will have the opportunity to spend Shabbat with their kids.
It’s going to be a truly emotional get-together – multiplied 35 times over.