By Joshua B. Dermer/TPS
Jerusalem (TPS) – Ten years after the death of her son Michael, an American-born IDF soldier who fell in battle, Harriet Levin is still learning to cope.
“Every day is different,” Levin said in an interview with Tazpit Press Service (TPS) on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day, which begins Tuesday night. “I’ve learned to deal, but then there are really bad days – I call them my ‘Michael days.’”
First Sgt. Michael Levin died during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Serving in Battalion 890 of the Paratroopers unit, Michael was killed by anti-tank fire while clearing a building in Aita Al Shaab, a city in southern Lebanon. He was 21 years old.
Levin represents a group of soldiers known as “lone soldiers” – citizens of other countries who leave behind their families and friends and come to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
Thousands of lone soldiers serve in the IDF. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, three lone soldiers, two Americans and one French, were killed in action in the Gaza Strip.
Since 2009, four lone soldier centers across Israel have been established in Michael Levin’s memory.
“Mostly I just try to focus on the good that we’re doing in his memory and that really keeps me going,” Harriet Levin said. The centers are “run by lone soldiers so they really understand their needs,” she added. “We just keep growing and getting better and better.”
Joshua Flaster, director of the Lone Soldier Center and a former lone soldier serving in an infantry unit, helped establish the center along with his comrades after completing his service.
“I came to Israel 11 years ago on my own, as a lone soldier, and sadly have lost good friends in the army,” Flaster told TPS. “Since my release from active-duty service I’ve had to say goodbye far too early to lone soldiers I’d helped advise and integrate into Israel.”
Memorial Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hazikaron, carries special weight for soldiers, lone or otherwise.
“Yom Hazikaron is a day of sad reflection and, of course, a little scary for any soldier,” Flaster said. “Soldiers are sent to stand by the graves of members of their unit who fell before them. A country comes to a stand-still and as a nation we take on the pain, loss, and price paid to be a free people in our own land.”
Harriet attended the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin ceremony at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill on Tuesday, which featured the untold stories of fallen lone soldiers.
“It’s not only the loss of my son but the loss of all of Israel’s children, both in wars and terrorism, who have given their lives so we have a homeland,” Levin said. “He’s not the only one. He came here from the States and he really didn’t have to, but that’s what really makes Israel so fabulous.”
The differences between Memorial Day in the U.S. and Israel are “like night and day,” Levin said.
“The United States just doesn’t get what a Memorial Day is,” she said. “In the States it’s about barbecues and sales and opening your shorehouse and it has nothing to do with people who have given their lives for their country – here that’s all it’s about.”
Michael is remembered for his smile, courage, and unhalting Zionism.
“His smile would melt you and his eyes would twinkle,” Levin told TPS. “But his seriousness came through when it came to Israel. He had a passion for Israel and a love for this country. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do with his life.”