Meet the former lone soldiers helping olim understand their rights

The struggle focuses on creating both an immediate and long-term solution.

Yuval Perry (L), Josh Drill (center), Avidan Ejnes (R). (photo credit: MAAYAN LEVI)
Yuval Perry (L), Josh Drill (center), Avidan Ejnes (R).
(photo credit: MAAYAN LEVI)
When Josh Drill finished his mandatory military service (sadir), he didn’t realize that a conversation with a friend, telling him he’s not getting what he’s supposed to get, would lead him into initiating a struggle to help olim understand their rights in Israel.
Drill, who was a soldier and officer in the elite Egoz reconnaissance unit and the Golani Brigade, was told by his friend that every oleh lone soldier who finishes his mandatory duty has the right to receive about NIS 400 a month from the Construction and Housing Ministry for five years.
When Drill called to find out what’s the story, he was told he had missed more than a year of the monthly payments and that he could no longer receive the entire sum, just three months of it.
He was then told that to keep receiving benefits from the Construction and Housing Ministry, a newly discharged lone soldier needs to contact the ministry on his own and inform them about his new status. However, Drill said soldiers are not told that this is what they need to do, and many of them miss out.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Drill said he discovered the essence of being Israeli at that moment and decided he would not be a frayer (sucker). He would not only stand up for his rights, he will also attempt to change the system and make it easier for others, he thought.
After that incident, Drill started making phone calls to other olim friends to see how common this phenomenon is.
“I started calling friends from Garin Tzabar and from the army, and I found out that according to my statistics, over half of the people that I spoke with were not receiving this money,” he said. “After speaking with several organizations, I understood that no one will do anything about it, and I thought: If no one will do it, I’ll do it.”
Like many other social struggles in our days, Drill wrote a Facebook post describing the problem “and what needs to be done,” he said.
The post was shared by more than 430 people and received hundreds of comments. But that was only the first step.
Drill then started getting interviewed by various Hebrew media outlets, including Army Radio and Channel 12’s morning show.
After months of hearing promises from the Construction and Housing Ministry that were never delivered, he decided to pursue the matter with the help of the HESEG Foundation, a charitable foundation created by Canadians Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman in 2005 to provide scholarships to former lone soldiers who served in the IDF.
Drill teamed up with former IDF officers Yuval Perry, an oleh from Las Vegas; and Avidan Ejnes, an oleh from France. Together, they came up with a strategy.
After consulting with the HESEG Foundation, they decided to divide the struggle into two: first, to come up with an immediate solution for this problem; and then to fight to fix the structural problem.
“First, we set up an online form that an oleh could fill out, and it automatically updates the Housing Ministry,” Drill said.
“A released lone soldier does not understand how to get the money and who to talk to,” he said. “So we created a platform that they only need to fill in their name, ID number, their email address and the year they made aliyah, and it automatically updates their right to keep getting this monthly allowance.”
This initiative went viral, and it has helped more than 1,000 released lone soldiers so far, according to the three former officers.
However, Drill himself said their goal is that soldiers won’t need the form.
“We need a permanent solution to this problem,” he said. “Despite the form getting to many soldiers, there is still no way that all lone soldiers will get it. We want this form to become irrelevant and that released lone soldiers will get the money automatically.”
As part of the second step, they approached politicians who could help them.
One of them is MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu (Yesh Atid), who sent a letter to Construction and Housing Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) in December, asking him how this system can be automated so that olim will get what they deserve without having to contact the ministry themselves.
 MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White) also addressed the issue in a letter to Litzman, and is still waiting his response, a spokesperson on behalf of the MK told the Post. In her letter, Cotler-Wunsh pointed out that no automated solution was created despite the ministry committing to do so in September 2019.
During their struggle, the Construction and Housing Ministry started sending out text messages to lone soldiers, informing them that they could contact the ministry and update it about their status.
However, that is still not enough, and the goal is to make this process automatic, Drill said.
“These text messages don’t help anyway,” he said. “Not all olim can understand the bureaucracy that is hidden in these text messages, and anyway, the entire process is long and complicated.”
Perry was born to an Israeli family and sees himself as a bridge between the olim and Israeli bureaucracy. His project is just the first of many, and he hopes that in the future the three of them can create a platform to help olim understand all their rights, he told the Post.
“We want to create a platform that will make the rights more accessible – something like an app in different languages that people could use on their phones,” Perry said.
Asked whether he has higher aspirations, such as national politics, Drill, who studies political science and communications, said it is a direction that he’s considering, but he would first like to work as a journalist.
In response to the allegations, the Construction and Housing Ministry said: “As of today, the ministry does not receive enough information on the soldiers from the IDF, and it can’t build a database that would allow an automatic transmission from the soldiers’ assistance program to the released soldiers’ program. The Construction and Housing Ministry turned to the IDF on its own initiative and asked for the needed information to ease the process of giving the released lone soldiers assistance.
“Until we create this mechanism, the ministry is running an apparatus of sending the soldiers text messages near their release date, which indicates that the current assistance program is about to end, and explaining the steps that one should take so that the ministry will assess the continuance of the assistance,” the Construction and Housing Ministry said.