Following their dreams, young men and women from North America start a new life in Israel, joining the Israel Defense Forces as “lone soldiers.”
This week, 125 young men and women from North America journeyed on a group flight to Israel, to realize their dream of joining the Israel Defense Forces. According to Yael Katsman, director of communications at Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps new immigrants, almost all of these young Jewish men and women are “lone soldiers,” without familial support in Israel, who will join the already 2,800 others like them in the IDF.
Nefesh B’Nefesh helps Lone Soldiers through “streamlining the drafting process, sending lone soldiers care packages, providing adoptive families for whenever a soldier is off-duty, giving financial assistance, or calling lone soldiers” to check up on them, said Katsman. She explained, “The most difficult thing [for lone soldiers] is the lack of network and family support. That is a big obstacle, as well as the language barrier.” For this reason Nefesh B’Nefesh gives lone soldiers extra assistance, becoming their family away from home.
According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, “For these idealistic soldiers, the draft process is an intense experience that often involves challenges of adapting to military service and to an independent life-style in Israel. The Lone Soldier Program provides a comprehensive solution that offers guidance, support, and care for all olim (new immigrant) soldiers at all stages of the process: prior to Aliyah, the pre-draft, throughout military service and after release from the IDF, when adjusting to civilian life in Israel.”
Additionally, 34 of these 125 Lone Soldiers are moving to kibbutzim in peripheral areas of the country in order to strengthen Israel’s security. One such lone soldier, 18-year-old Michaela Yaakobovitch, is moving Kibbutz Beit Zera in Northern Israel.
According to Yaakobovitch, “I am looking forward to it. It’s really beautiful there. This is something that I decided I wanted to do. Most of my friends went to college, yet I wanted to make a difference by joining the army. I’m really excited to start something new. I went to Israel every summer, yet now I am going to be part of Israeli society. I will have a new family on my program and meet new people and have new adventures. I’m going to miss my family and friends, yet they will visit.” Katsman feels a “strong sense of pride to see these young men and women volunteering. It shows how strong the State of Israel is. There are young idealists who are coming over to Israel out of choice, trying to make the country a better place. It’s very inspirational.”
Despite the difficulties associated with life as a Lone Soldier, Katsman emphasizes that these 125 young men and women are “very excited, very Zionistic, and very pumped. The energy they bring to the flight is incredible. They are very confident. They decided this path on their own over the last few years.” For many of these olim, the thrill of boarding a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight en route to their IDF service is a moving experience that will last a lifetime.
By Rachel Avraham & Eitan Press, staff writers for United With Israel