The father of lone soldiers – a tribute

Tzvika Levy was a man who dedicated much of his professional and personal life to the Jewish state and the foreign volunteers who serve in its armed forces.

Tzvika Levy. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tzvika Levy.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
True to the name, to be a lone soldier is to be alone. However, one man made being a lone soldier much less lonely – for me, and for thousands of others.
Tzvika Levy was known as “The Father of Lone Soldiers.” With his passing, thousands of soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces lost a member of their family. With his passing, Israel became a little lonelier. With his passing, I lost a hero, a mentor and a good friend.
For those of you who are not familiar, the expression “lone soldier” is used to describe an Israeli soldier who has either come to serve from overseas and has no family in Israel, or an Israeli-born soldier who has a complicated family situation and needs state assistance. For the soldier, it also can mean uncertainty and fear when trying to navigate one’s way through army bureaucracy, to the point that even choosing a unit is difficult. Being a lone soldier can mean coming home from the army to an empty apartment on Shabbat, while all your friends arrive to the smell of fresh challah and the warm embrace of their families. It can mean standing alone at your army graduation ceremony, your greatest triumph, with no loved ones with which to share the moment. “Lone” is a matter of not just the physical needs that come with not having a family in Israel, but the lack of human connection, and the emotional disenfranchisement of being in a country and serving alone.
Tzvika Levy was a man who dedicated much of his professional and personal life to the Jewish state and the foreign volunteers who serve in its armed forces. When these soldiers needed direction as to which army unit to enlist into, Tzvika was there to offer counsel. When we needed encouragement, he was there speaking to us about the importance of our military service. When a soldier found himself without a place to go, he gave us a home, even accommodating some in his own house. When we had ceremonies, he was there smiling, waving and offering encouraging words. He was our voice, our supporter and our helping hand. Tzvika was all these things and more, because he was a kind man – and when you’re alone, a little kindness can go a long way.
Tzvika taught me what it means to be Israeli. Israel is a state, but it is also a family. In a family, you take care of each other. Tzvika represented that resilient spirit of familial loving-kindness, of Jews helping Jews, of brothers helping brothers, of helping without being asked and sacrificing without thinking. Others helped lone soldiers, but it was Tzvika’s smile that steadied our world. In the book Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), it’s written that the world stands on certain pillars. One of those pillars is kindness. Like an Israeli Atlas, Tzvika never broke a sweat while serving as this column. Today, that pillar shook as one of its main supporters passed on.
It is fitting for Tzvika to be remembered as living out an ethic of our “fathers,” as he was like a parent to us. The title “The Father of Lone Soldiers” wasn’t just affectionate. It was well earned.
He manifested every aspect of that designation. Like a father, he was always just a phone call away. He could move mountains from his speakerphone, often doing so at the same time as driving to deliver microwaves and other necessary items that lone soldiers were lacking. Every day he would offer fatherly advice from some other location, as he went to visit his other adopted children with gifts – to every border in the State of Israel. He was a one-man legion fighting 24/7 for other people, who sometimes didn’t even know that it was him fighting on their behalf.
I moved to Israel in 2012 to join the IDF. I knew nothing. I had done zero preparation for the challenge that was in front of me. I was blessed enough to meet Tzvika through Amichai Shikli’s Mechina Tavor program “Olim L’Tavor.” Tzvika helped me move onto my first kibbutz, Kibbutz Ginegar. Tzvika got me the things I was missing to make my room feel like home. Tzvika called me, texted me and visited me. I will never forget to this day how he accompanied me on my entire Masa Kumta (Beret March), giving me the motivation I needed. Marching along my unit, a strong stride breaking through the difficulties of age, he provided us with the confidence and energy to be the best soldiers we could be.
Tzvika continued to march beside me even after my army service. He continued to be in touch, as his dutiful kindness wasn’t bound to my being a soldier or not. One doesn’t cease to be a father when a child becomes a man. The day that he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was heartbreaking. However, true to Tzvika’s nature, he never allowed this disease to stop him from doing what he loved. He continued to show up to ceremonies, to help from afar, and to modestly be the giant of a man that he was. Even when the strength of his body was failing, he continued to “march” alongside us.
I, like an endless number of others, will always be indebted to Tzvika for his affection and help. Tzvika, you will be missed by generations of people, but your memory will live on forever.
We know that you will continue to march alongside us in spirit. We know that we now have another father in heaven, watching over us 24/7, just as you did before.
The writer, a former lone soldier and friend of Tzvika Levy, is currently residing in the USA.