Lone Soldiers celebrate ‘Thanksgivukkah’ together in capital

"Their families are gathering in the States and these soldiers are alone in an army base, which makes this gathering important," says MK Lipman.

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Dinner for Lone Soldiers  (photo credit: Courtesy AJC)
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Dinner for Lone Soldiers
(photo credit: Courtesy AJC)
As Thanksgiving and Hanukka overlap for the first time in over 100 years – and will not do so again for another 70,000 years – some 40 Lone Soldiers gathered in the capital Thursday night to celebrate ‘Thanksgivukka’ during a shared meal featuring staples from both holidays.
According to the IDF, there are presently approximately 5,000 Lone Soldiers, or Diaspora Jews who volunteer to serve in the IDF without having their parents living in the country. While the soldiers are assigned surrogate families, many face challenges acclimating to a starkly different life in Israel.
“I knew this would be challenging,” said Adam Ota, 19, a soldier from Japan, who celebrated his first Thanksgiving.
“I miss my family, but we frequently Skype, so I still see them all the time.”
Ota, the grandson of Holocaust survivors on his mother’s side, said he joined the IDF because he was inspired by his grandfather, who fought in the War of Independence after being liberated from Hungary.
He said the biggest challenge has been reconciling Israeli chutzpah with Japan’s far more restrained culture.
“The cultural differences have been high, especially when you come from a country where your culture is to hold back,” he said. “But I’m happy and when I’m done with the army I want to go to college here.”
American born MK Dov Lipman toasted the soldiers as they were feted to a procession of food, including two enormous turkeys, apple and pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes with gravy, and of course, potato latkes and chocolate gelt.
“I’m inspired looking around this table and seeing young people who made a heroic and courageous decision,” said Lipman, shortly after lighting a menorah adjacent to a roasted turkey.
“I hope you recognize how much Israel embraces you,” he continued. “You should go from strength to strength and remember that the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can accomplish here.”
Noam Ivri, 28, and originally from Boca Raton, Florida, said he made aliya in 2009 and joined the army a year later.
“Its had its ups and downs,” said Ivri of serving in the IDF.
“But I remind myself of the bigger picture, which is you’re making history here. For me, I feel like I’m part of the face of Israel.”
Ivri said he appreciated the emotional support of fellow Lone Soldiers, whom, unlike their Israeli counterparts, are not able to visit with their families every weekend.
“They understand the challenges we go through and that we want to find a balance between being an Israeli and an American and not be ashamed, because what makes this country great is that we’re the sum of our parts,” he said.
Moran Samuel, an internationally celebrated para- Olympic athlete, paralyzed from the chest down following a spinal stroke at the age of 24, also joined the soldiers.
“They’re just like me in that their overcoming challenges,” she said. “I admire the spirit and courage of the Lone Soldiers and I think they represent many of the things I believe in.”
The event was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee in its Jerusalem office for the 11th year.