Where is our support for Israel’s lone soldiers?

Government promises won't pay the bills.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY mourn at the funeral of American lone soldier Alex Sasaki at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, in March.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
FRIENDS AND FAMILY mourn at the funeral of American lone soldier Alex Sasaki at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, in March.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
When COVID-19 broke out, some said it would be a great equalizer of humanity. The reality is that, although we are all battling the same storm, we are far from being in the same boat.
The State of Israel has provided many individuals with financial support that has greatly benefited and been appreciated by many of those eligible to receive it. But the money has not materialized for everyone to whom it was promised. This sidelined, overlooked group includes recently discharged lone soldiers.
After volunteering to join our defense forces, these young women and men now look for civilian employment but there is little new work to be found. Their service precluded them from working for the past year, and as lone soldiers who came here specifically to enlist, they did not work here prior to enlisting.
Thus, they are ineligible for unemployment benefits, and have fallen through the holes in our government’s COVID-19 safety net. Some lone soldiers approaching the end of their service were given an option to defer their release for a little while, however, this is not a permanent solution. Besides, it is not an option for those already released. For this latter group, cash was promised. It has yet to be seen.
What do you do if you’re a former lone soldier who cannot find a job and cannot receive unemployment benefits? Do you prioritize buying food or paying rent? Do you turn to a lone soldier organization, even though charities are stretched to breaking point right now, with philanthropy another victim of the merciless virus?
What happens when your landlord demands yet another month’s rent that you just don’t have? You can’t go home to mom and dad. There are no flights, and even if there were, your bank account isn’t exactly up to purchasing a ticket.
All the while the promises of the state, to which you once gave everything you had, go unfulfilled, and so your bank account remains empty day after day.
There is no such thing as a COVID-19 competition. So many of us are suffering in different ways. I do not claim that lone soldiers have it worse than anyone else. I only want to give a voice to a group in our society that too often goes unheard until it is too late.
The last time lone soldiers featured on our national radar, it was due to fear of a mental health crisis. Now many are being forced into financial crises, too. Not only is this unconscionable in itself, but it will also only exacerbate existing mental health issues.
As a former lone soldier, this issue is very close to my heart but it should not only concern those of us personally connected. Lone soldiers give up their comfortable lives abroad to come and protect us all. They leave their families behind, plunge themselves into an unfamiliar society and cope with a new language, all because of their dedication to the Jewish state. They look after us, so why aren’t we looking after them?
There are economically and socially sound arguments in favor of helping lone soldiers settle into post-service civilian life in Israel. These bright, committed Zionists help combat “brain drain,” as many of our Israel-born youth pursue futures abroad. They enrich our culture, as I have always said all immigrants do. But this is about more than securing our homeland’s future. It’s about doing the right thing.
As a nation that benefits so much from lone soldiers’ dedication and sacrifices, the least we can do is care for them, not only while they protect us but after, too. If we fail to do this, we may lose them as they return to their home countries, or in unimaginably worse ways.

The writer is a member of the Jerusalem City Council for Hitorerut and a member of the Likud Party.