Shlomo Kerner, 18, was born in Israel and moved at a very young age to the United States. Raised in the city of Monsey, New York, he came back alone to Israel at the age of 18 after graduating from high school to serve in the IDF, leaving all of his family behind.With the stunning example of his father, who served in the army for 13 years, it was clear to him that this was his next step in life.“I always knew that I wanted to go back to Israel. When my friends were making plans for their future after high school, deciding which university they would apply to, or their gap year destination, I just told them that I wanted to become a soldier, and they didn’t understand. But for me, it was evident,” Kerner said.Today, Kerner fulfills his dream by serving in the Border Police on the front lines as a lone soldier.When asked what influenced his choice of unit, Kerner said it was the tragic story of his cousin, Tal.Tal Kedoshim served in the Border Police a few years ago. In 2015, in the middle of his service, while off his base for a few days, Tal was on a jet ski in the middle of the Kinneret when he got hit by a boat and drowned. After one month of searching, his body was found.When telling this story, Kerner emphasized that this is a family story. “He couldn’t finish his service; I need to finish something he couldn’t finish,” he said. “He is family. The fact that I am drafting into [the] Border Police means a lot for my family.”
KERNER CAME back to Israel in October after finishing high school, and was drafted in November. The first four months of his service were dedicated to basic training which he finished in March. He is following that with another specialized, intensive training for the Border Police.Stuck in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, he explained that he couldn’t really sense the change of situation, since he joined almost simultaneously with the start of the pandemic – except perhaps for the duties he is in charge of as a Border Police officer.Based in Jerusalem, Kerner has the rank of lance-corporal. He mainly works either in Arab villages to protect Jewish families living under threat, or in the Old City to prevent terrorist attacks.But what makes this year unique, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is that Kerner and his comrades also need to ensure that the Health Ministry regulations are followed properly.The Border Police is focused on supporting different communities – Arabs, Christians and Jews – to respect the regulations, especially during these High Holy Days and lockdown, making sure people are wearing masks, keeping social distancing and not gathering in large numbers.The High Holy Days are a hard time for lone soldiers, who usually don’t have any family in Israel, which is the case for Kerner.A few weeks ago, while in regular service, Kerner was asked by one of his comrades to get ready for an important interview that would take place at his base: to explain his life in the army as a Border Police lone soldier, with his family far away.When he arrived at the place where the interview was supposed to take place, he explained, “there was nothing and no one” there. Then someone came, asked him to sit down, and started asking him questions about his life in the army, including how it is to be so far from family and what he missed the most from home since he left the US almost a year ago.When Kerner answered that it was his mother he missed the most, she appeared right behind him, leaving him in shock.His commanders had decided a few weeks before to plan in secret a visit for Kerner’s mom to Israel to surprise him before Rosh Hashanah. They planned the two-week isolation, the travel and the final surprise by making him think it was an interview.“It was incredible,” Kerner said with emotion. “It was a very intense surprise. They could have done it to anyone else, but they chose me.”Kerner, who will turn 19 in two weeks, has only eight months left in the army but plans to serve additional time in the Border Police.He is preparing to fly this week to visit his parents. Kerner explains that from the beginning, even if it was clear to him, it was difficult to leave his home, his family and especially his mom, who was worried that she wouldn’t be seeing him for so long. Also, the drafting process is not easy, but “you get used to it.”Micky Rosenfeld, Israel Police foreign media spokesman, explained that “whether you are a lone soldier, or were born and raised in Israel, the important thing is that it is the exact same training, the same skills are required, and it is the same learning for us all.”“And I have learned a lot from the Border Police service so far,” Kerner concluded.