IDF lone soldiers fight on despite COVID difficulties

The coronavirus pandemic has made being alone in the country even more difficult, but fellow soldiers and IDF officials are working hard to provide support.

IDF lone soldier Corporal Ryan Berman (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF lone soldier Corporal Ryan Berman
Lone soldiers come from all different sorts of communities from both inside and outside of Israel to serve in the IDF. The coronavirus pandemic has made being alone in the country even more difficult, but fellow soldiers and IDF officials are working hard to provide support for them during this difficult period. Here are the stories of four lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF.
Corporal Yonah Cohen
Corporal Yonah Cohen (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)Corporal Yonah Cohen (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)
Cohen is a Golani soldier who immigrated to Israel in July 2019 to enlist in the army from Amsterdam, where he grew up and was educated. His grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and talked to him a lot about the army and the state, and he is one of the reasons why Cohen felt the obligation to immigrate to the State of Israel and enlist, in addition to his friends who enlisted and fought in Operation Protective Edge. He enlisted on December 19 to the Michve Alon training base and on March 20 joined the Golani Brigade immediately after the outbreak of the virus. Cohen recently flew to his family in Amsterdam and says that he received a lot of help from his commanders and the TASH (Service Conditions) staff in his unit.
"2020 was challenging for me," said Cohen. "I started training in March, just with the outbreak of the coronavirus. Right from the Bakum (the Reception and Sorting Base) we closed 28 days on base, but it built the close connection with the platoon that holds us to this day."
"There were moments that it was hard for me," added Cohen. "I didn't see my parents from the moment of my immigration until very recently, but the friends from the platoon helped me a lot. Every Saturday that we went out, all the parents of the platoon asked if I wanted to come for Friday night or need something at home. I am thankful to my entire platoon, because of them I did not feel alone once. The beret march was a special and amazing moment, after 10 days of war exercises everyone was terribly tired, but from the second we started the journey everyone was very excited. I just thought I was so happy to be here. I wanted to enlist in the army from the age of 13, and when I got the brown beret on my head with my brothers from the army, I was the happiest I ever was."
Corporal Ryan Berman
Corporal Ryan Berman (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)Corporal Ryan Berman (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)
Berman, 24, was born in South Africa and later moved with his family to Sydney, Australia, when he was six. He attended a Jewish school all his life and after graduating from high school, he came to Israel on a volunteer program at Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv and studied at a yeshiva. He then returned to Australia and began studying for a degree.
"Two years ago, I decided I wanted to come here and enlist," said Berman. "I studied at the yeshiva for half a year and enlisted in March, just as the coronavirus was beginning. After receiving the assignment to Kfir, I did an investigation and heard about the LOTAR Unit (the IDF Counter-Terror Academy). I decided I wanted to try and give more of myself, I went through the tryouts and got into the course."
Ryan immigrated to Israel alone, the first of his family to immigrate, and today lives in Ra’anana with an adoptive family. He is the oldest soldier in the LOTAR course, who is about to finish the course, and even received the beret of his team commander.
"Enlisting was one of my most significant moments this year," Berman said. "I have not seen my family in a year and a half, since I enlisted, because of the coronavirus. To travel to and from Australia is complicated because of the quarantine policies there. I keep in touch with my family all the time. The distance is challenging, but I feel satisfaction from what I do. After I decided I wanted to live here, it seemed obvious to me."
Sergeant Tomer Yosef
Sergeant Tomer Yosef (on right) (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)Sergeant Tomer Yosef (on right) (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)
Yosef was born and raised in Israel and enlisted in the Kfir Brigade in March 2019. He did not plan to join the Kfir Brigade, but was very determined to enlist into combat. "Before my enlistment, I did not differentiate between the various infantry brigades, but the desire burned in me to enlist and I was assigned to Kfir," said Yosef. During his training, his parents decided to divorce. Following this, he severed ties with his mother and moved to Ashdod with his father.
His commanders, who were very impressed with the command and field abilities that Yosef demonstrated during the training, decided to promote him and take him to a platoon commanders course in the first assignment given to them. Yosef stood out during the course, until in November 2019, Yosef received a phone call announcing the bitter news that his father had died suddenly of a heart attack.
Yosef decided with a heavy heart that he would not be able to cope with the bereavement and the intensive course and decided to finish the process he had begun. "At the beginning of the process of transitioning to being a lone soldier I was given a platoon commander who helped me with everything I needed, came and accompanied me for every conversation with the NCO of Service Conditions (Masakit Tash)." After a short stay at home, Yosef asked to return to the battalion.
After a short time in the battalion after his return, Yosef. knew that his father would not want him to give up the course altogether, and went out again last March for a squad commanders course.
"It's very easy to fall into depression, to be closed at home and not talk to anyone, but I did not choose that way of coping," said Yosef. "The Kfir Brigade has added value beyond the tremendous significance of protecting the security of Israeli citizens and that is family, there is no such thing as being ashamed to ask for help, everyone is reaching out. Really a second home that's fun to go back to."
"What helped me stay in the army in general and specifically as squad commander are these two things: first, the attitude of the staff, and secondly, the thought that I started something so I will finish it to the end, despite the personal tragedy I went through. I wanted to continue my path in the army and, despite the difficulty, I will not let anything stop me," added Yosef.
Private Rachel Spivak
Private Rachel Spivak (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)Private Rachel Spivak (Credit: IDF Spokespersons Unit)
Spivak, 20, is a new immigrant from Ecuador in South America. Both her parents died of cancer and Rachel immigrated to Israel alone, after a meaningful year of seminary to connect more with her Judaism and because she felt a connection to the culture and the Land of Israel.
Rachel enlisted in April 2020 and underwent training at the Michve Alon base. She says that at the beginning of the operations room workers course, the experience was challenging, especially in terms of language difficulties. In addition, Rachel says that she succeeded in the course with the help of close friends and thanks to her personal commander, who accompanied her from the beginning and still supports her at every step. Today, Rachel, a operation sergeant in the operation room in the Northern Command, talks about significant and challenging work. Constant alertness is needed, the feeling is a sense of mission and presence among friends helps her do her job on the best side.
"Immigrating to Israel was difficult for me at first," said Spivak. "I did not know Hebrew very well. It is very significant for me to serve as a lone soldier. From the age of 14, I dreamed of enlisting. As a Jew, I think it is very important to protect my country. At first, I did not understand what my job meant, but after the course I realized how significant and necessary the job is and I am happy that I got the job. I really enjoy with the girls and the atmosphere here and love my job very much."
"Recently, many changes have been made in the way soldiers are treated, while constantly thinking about how to learn and improve," said the head of the Service Conditions Division in the Manpower Directorate, Lt.-Col. Shirin Ben Aken. "Realizing that the coronavirus disrupts our daily routine, we have trained ourselves so that we can continue to assist soldiers in the best way possible. As part of this preparation, last March the 'Lone [Soldier] Center' was established in the MOFET (Wages and Finances) unit in the Manpower Directorate. The center carries out daily activities to assist and facilitate the lone soldiers, especially during the coronavirus period and in general in their military service. The center incorporates all the tools to help the lone soldiers and their families while maintaining maximum availability 24/7 so that the soldiers have an address to turn to at all times and on any subject."
Translated by Jerusalem Post Staff.