KIBBUTZ GESHER, Israel – Don’t let anyone tell you that time and distance will harm the closeness of our community! Just the opposite, I say; sometimes it shows the importance of maintaining our communities’ relations, and can even make them stronger.
It has been close to three years since returning to Israel. Our eldest daughter Shelley has chosen to remain in the United States to continue her studies and our youngest daughter Tal is now serving her third year as a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
I have chosen to work with the Lone Soldier Center (LSC) in memory of Michael Levin, a U.S. resident who emigrated to Israel. After joining the IDF’s paratroopers brigade, he fought during Israel’s second war with Lebanon and was killed in action in August 2006. His death inspired the creation of the Lone Soldier Center in his memory.
Lone soldiers are those individuals, both male and female (many from around the world), who serve in the IDF and do not have immediate family in Israel. In fact, many have no family members in Israel at all. Other lone soldiers are Israelis who come from less fortunate families and, in turn, must be completely self-sufficient. In Israel today, there are more than 5,000 lone soldiers.
Our goal at the LSC is to assist these young men and woman before, during and after their military service. We help find housing, furniture and food and provide one-on-one counseling. We provide the tools to help them successfully navigate through the military process and become better established within Israeli society.
In addition to our one-on-one services, several times during the year we also provide Friday night meals and holiday celebrations where hundreds of soldiers come together to eat and network with each other.
Several months ago, I received an email from our friends, Marc and Janice Adler, who told me that the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island was planning a mission to Israel. When the group from the Alliance came to Tiberias (in January 2013), I met them at a restaurant and brought a few lone soldiers along to meet them. On that evening last January, the group welcomed three soldiers to eat dinner with them on the shore of Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. Within a matter of minutes, the group embraced our lone soldiers and made them feel special and appreciated. The soldiers moved from table to table, introducing themselves, as mission participants reached out to greet them.
That evening, as we drove them home, they commented on their homes far away and feeling proud of what they are doing, not only for themselves, but also for the greater Jewish community. One soldier was a paratrooper from Venezuela; a second was a combat engineer from Alabama and my daughter, a sharpshooter/combat medic in field intelligence with her own Rhode Island roots. I know when they woke up the following Sunday morning and returned to their respective army bases, they were re-energized by feeling the importance of what they do and for whom they do it.
The Rhode Island community includes other individuals who have served as lone soldiers in the IDF, including Gershon Levine and Jason Teitlebaum. Abby Stouber, also from Rhode Island, stayed in my home during Shabbat shortly after she had joined the IDF. I was a lone soldier 30 years ago.
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Mike Meyerheim in Israel at 054-984-2298.