If once a year we can get together and make turkey, stuffing, potatoes, salads and pumpkin pie for close to 1,000 IDF soldiers who have no family here, it is the least we can do to thank these wonderful young people who do so much for the People of Israel and the State of Israel.

When my dear friend Bonnie Rosenbaum called and said, “it’s that time of year for the annual Lone Soldier Thanksgiving Dinner” – and that “this year we’re expecting 800 soldiers in Tel Aviv! – I quickly got busy mobilizing my friends and neighbors to help her.  Bonnie was overall in charge of the dinner. Every year, she does her magic of providing lone soldiers with a complete Thanksgiving dinner, with all the trimmings, by enlisting the help of hundreds of volunteers from four different communities (Bet Shemesh/Ramat Beit Shemesh, Maale Adumim, Karnei Shomron and Efrat).

About the Dinner

We volunteers from these communities take the task of feeding these soldiers seriously because we know they look forward to this dinner all year long. It started out as an event to give 200-plus American soldiers in the IDF “a taste of home.” Then, a few years later, the event became a HaKarat HaTov” (showing appreciation) dinner for lone soldiers from all over the world who come here to serve in the IDF or to participate in a sherut leumi (national service) program.

There are now approximately 6,000 lone soldiers in the IDF, with the majority still coming from the  US.

So what inspires all these volunteers to put their hearts and souls into a Thanksgiving dinner for soldiers? Why focus on feeding soldiers a big fancy dinner when there are so many causes and needy people out there?

The Concept of ‘Lone Soldier’

Idealistic and brave young men and women are recognized as “lone soldiers” because they leave their homelands and families behind. They become IDF soldiers who endure all the struggles and hardships of any soldier, but the difference is that they have no home to go to on breaks, no family support, no one to take care of them when they are ill, no one to lend them money or a shoulder to lean on when army life gets tough.

The community in which we live in Ramat Beit Shemesh is a nice blend of mostly Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) families, including many with children in the IDF, and Haredi  (ultra-orthodox) families who have significantly fewer children that serve. Some of them had never met a soldier until the war (Operation Protective Edge) in the summer of 2014. Either way, few of us knew soldiers who had no one to support them throughout their service.  Our own kids, on the other hand, get the royal treatment. We pamper them on their visits home and send them back to base with fresh laundry, special treats, pocket money and hugs.

The War Last Summer Changed Us

The tragic kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers followed by the war in Gaza last summer brought all of us together to a higher level of achdut (unity) that few of us had ever experienced. Many IDF soldiers from our own community served in Gaza – and right alongside them were lone soldiers. We got to meet them, invite them for Shabbat meals and provide them with whatever they needed to get through the summer in Gaza.

My son serves in the IDF, and he told us that the thing that kept him and others going strong when they were fighting in Gaza was the outpouring of love and support they received from communities all over Israel and from Jews all over the world. He brings these lone soldiers home. Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh provides housing for them now. There is a home for lone solders that just opened up in Bet Shemesh as well. We have become more aware of the needs of these soldiers, and as such, countless others have become very involved since the war to help show our deep appreciation to them.

The Call to ‘Chesed’

Chesed (loving-kindness) is a Jewish value that springs forth especially in times of crisis. Our communities keep the chesed flowing for our IDF soldiers in any way we can.

We don’t want to wait for another war to give love and support to our troops – especially the ones who have no family here.

If once a year we can get together and make turkey, stuffing, potatoes, salads and pumpkin pie for close to 1,000 young men and women who do so much for the People of Israel and the State of Israel and who have no family here, it is the least we can do to thank them. I am proud of all our soldiers. I am proud to live among people who recognize that all IDF soldiers endure so much and put their lives on the line for us every day. I am proud to be part of the holy nation of Israel.

Footnote:  Michael Levin, a lone soldier from Philadelphia, was killed in action during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The center was opened in 2009 by his parents and former lone soldiers.

By: Yehudis Schamroth, Ramat Beit Shemesh
(Exclusive to United with Israel)

The author, an American-born-and-raised nurse anesthetist/acupuncturist, is well-known in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where she resides, as a leader and an extraordinary volunteer. She was one of the main organizers of the Lone Soldier Thanksgiving Dinner.

Keep Israel Soldiers Warm this Winter - Send Care Packages!

We are honored to thank the young men and women of the IDF who risk their lives every day to protect and defend the citizens of Israel. Join us in sending winter care packages (and personal notes of support) to Israeli soldiers who are out in the cold all day long.

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