As most high school seniors in America are planning for life away from their families for the first time and college students are planning their spring break, a small, passionate group of their peers are embarking on a quite different, selfless path. An increasing number of Jewish-Americans are opting out of the typical college experience in the United States, choosing instead to make Aliyah and serve in the Israel Defense Forces. These young people are known as lone soldiers; soldiers without family in Israel. They voluntarily and eagerly move thousands of miles away from their families, often not even speaking the native Hebrew language, all in an effort to contribute three years of their lives to a larger than life ideal.
Due to the fact that military service in Israel is compulsory for men and women, it is no wonder that these immigrant soldiers have a profound effect on their Israeli counterparts. Israeli soldiers often ask the lone soldiers, “Why did you move Israel? Why are you giving up the best years of your life to serve in the army when it is not mandatory for you to do so”? Daniel Fogel, a lone soldier from Boca Raton, Florida sums up his response to them, “I simply smile and say that I feel privileged to be part of the first Jewish army in 2000 years. This is the most important part of being a lone soldier. We are here to remind the Israelis in our generation exactly what they serve for. If I can impart even a bit of this perspective to the soldiers and citizens around me, then I believe I have already done a great service to my country”
The lone soldiers’ enthusiasm carries them far in helping them to integrate into their new lifestyle, but eventually, needs arise that perhaps require “family help”. The non-profit organization, Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), already renowned for its level of efficiency and service provided to North American and British Jews before and after they make Aliyah, has created an equally impressive support system for their lone soldiers. According to Vice President Danny Oberman’s motto; “It is the least we can do for these soldiers who have sacrificed so much”. Their approach is holistic, addressing the financial, social and familial challenges that lone soldiers face.
Nefesh B’Nefesh has created a special fund for soldiers to support them from the moment they first land, and continues throughout and after their active service. The fund enables Nefesh B’Nefesh to provide enhanced financial assistance, to allow the lone soldiers to concentrate their first 6-12 months on learning Hebrew and integrating into Israeli society. Several times per year Nefesh B’Nefesh organizes care-packages that are hand-delivered by staff members to the soldiers on their kibbutzim and bases. In addition, NBN recognizes the need for lone soldiers to have an active social life, and coordinates a variety of events, ranging from concerts and open-mic nights to Shabbat meals. More important than finances and events, Nefesh B’Nefesh assumes the role of family for these special soldiers and acts as a bridge between them and their families in North America or the U.K. Once the soldiers are released from active duty, NBN provides further services including advice on higher-education and employment assistance.
In 2010, Nefesh B’Nefesh forged a partnership with the Friends of the IDF to create and support social, educational, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for young Olim serving in the IDF. The two organizations are working together to help lone soldiers acclimate to their new lives in the army and in Israel, and provide them with the highest level of support.
Nefesh B’Nefesh has brought over 1,600 Oleh soldiers, with over 600 currently serving in active combat – a number that is increasing at rapid pace, with over 400 arriving each year. Although many of these soldiers have received awards for bravery in combat, each lone soldier’s bravery is already evidenced from the moment the decision is made to leave their family and serve in the IDF.
Nefesh B’Nefesh has created a paradigmatic shift in the experience of lone soldiers. They have facilitated a process that is both transformative and sustainable. The goal is not simply to help soldiers wade through the bureaucratic process; rather, it is to welcome the soldiers into a family that will care for their every need. Highly-personal connections are created between soldiers, their families and NBN from the first phone call. These bonds, like those of any family, are eternal.
“This article is part of a promotional Aliyah section.”