Finding the right education for lone soldiers after their service

Young people who have chosen to leave their families, move to Israel and serve the country look for home-away-from-home environments with proven support when choosing where to study.

IDF soldiers in training  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF soldiers in training
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
The transition from soldier to civilian is a tricky one. While a number of young men and women leave the army ready to pursue a degree and begin planning for their futures, the mental switch is certainly not simple.
There is another class of soldier for whom this transition is slightly more complex – lone soldiers. These are individuals who have moved to Israel alone and have chosen to serve the State of Israel while their close family members remain in their countries of origin. While they may have strong familial support in general, their families are simply not with them to visit the various academic institutions and research their study options.
Joshua Harris is one such example. He made aliyah alone from Springfield, Virginia, in October 2013 to Kibbutz Tzova and joined the IDF through Garin Tzabar. Following his service, Joshua knew that he wanted to get a degree but could not fathom studying in Hebrew. For Josh, the Hebrew was a deal breaker, and so his first point of call was to find a school that allowed him to study in English.
“That is where the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya came into play,” he says. “IDC provides the groundwork and smooth transition to civilian life for any ex-lone soldier. Not only do they provide the option to learn in English, but they provide a quality education that I will be able to utilize in my future here in Israel. In addition, the staff is wonderful and provides financial aid, career aid and connections in the future world of employment. What I find most fascinating is the personal relationship the teachers have with the students. They are a lot more open and actually remember our names, unlike large campuses around the globe!”
Joshua is one of hundreds who look for and enjoy this personal care and attention; as the year opens for the 2018-2019 academic calendar, 250 lone soldiers have joined IDC Herzliya’s ranks.
“The Garin Tzabar partnership with IDC Herzliya is a long-lasting relationship based on shared values and a strong passion for the future of young Israelis. IDC Herzliya serves as an academic home for more than 50% of Garin Tzabar alumni who pursue academic degrees and establish their lives in Israel,” says Alon Kuba, director of Garin Tzabar.
Shimon Elbaz, from Irvine, California, has waved goodbye to three of his children as they’ve boarded the plane to make Israel their home. All three have served Israel as lone soldiers – Sahar, his middle son, earned a special medal of honor for his heroic service during Operation Protective Edge.
“We were first introduced to IDC when my eldest daughter, Rotem, decided after careful consideration that IDC was the best school for her after she completed her service as a lone soldier. Returning to the US for college was not an option for her, as she wanted to stay in Israel.”
Shimon noted that Rotem, too, was looking for a home-style environment to transition into.
“She was looking for a school that was welcoming and felt like a family, where the faculty and staff take a special interest in those who left their homes and families abroad to come to Israel alone and serve. Rotem was able to excel in her studies because she enjoyed every moment there.”
Rotem was followed by her brother, Sahar, who learned about IDC through her and chose to enroll in the Business program after completing his military service. He is now starting his second year. Zohar, the youngest Elbaz, has now enrolled in her first year. “Being away from our kids during the year is definitely not easy, but knowing that everyone at IDC is looking out for them and making them feel like part of a large family certainly makes it easier,” says Shimon.
Another IDC Herzliya partner is Families of Lone Soldiers (FLS), a not-for-profit organization based in Los Angeles that caters to the needs of lone soldiers and their families. Eli Fitlovitz, FLS’s chairman and a co-founder, said that lone soldiers who have completed their active duty in the IDF have issues and concerns that differ from soldiers that have immediate family in Israel. One of FLS’s missions is to assist lone soldiers as they transition back into civilian society. The organization appreciates that simplifying the process of their entrance into a university is an important step. Because FLS knows that IDC welcomes lone soldiers with open arms, every year it co-hosts an event in Los Angeles to introduce IDC to the next cohort of lone soldiers.
Jonathan Davis, vice president for external relations and head of the Raphael Recanati International School at IDC Herzliya, was a lone soldier in the 1970s and continues to serve in reserve duty in the IDF.
“Looking back a few decades, when I arrived in Israel as a lone student and lone soldier, very few governmental bodies and NGOs understood what I and a handful of other newcomers from the West, was going through,” he recalls. “I was alone in a strange country with no support system. I swore that if I had the chance one day to be in a key academic position, we would change this reality for other lone soldiers. After some time spent as an emissary in different parts of the world, work with the Jewish Agency and a stint in another university, I found my home at IDC Herzliya and really feel that I have come full circle as I now help today’s lone soldiers to find their place on our campus, with all the necessary assistance that they may require.”
Sam Sank was born and raised in London, but made aliyah with Garin Tzabar at the age of 18, fulfilling a lifelong Zionist dream. For his army service, Sam served a full service as a commander in the Paratroopers’ Brigade and is still an active reservist. Following his release, Sam studied Government, Diplomacy & Strategy at IDC and took part in the Argov Fellows program for Leadership and Diplomacy. He graduated with magna cum laude honors.
“I always knew that I was going to end up at IDC,” he says. “I don’t think there is a better place in Israel where you can study in English. My hand was held as I was going along this journey; I always felt that I had a structured environment where I was given help and advice for anything I needed. Going to IDC after being a lone soldier kind of closed a circle for me.”
Sank, who worked part-time at a start-up company throughout his studies, graduated in 2016. Today he works at Fetchy, an e-commerce start-up, as well as running Israel’s first ever all-olim football team, Inter Aliyah, which he founded.
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