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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘lone soldier’

Lone Soldiers and Olim Celebrate “Thanksgivukkah” in Tel Aviv

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Fifty lone soldiers and over 200 young professional Olim celebrated “Thanksgivukkah” at a festive event organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh and White City Shabbat.

Revelers celebrated the once-in-a-lifetime double holiday of Chanukkah and Thanksgiving at the landmark Goren Synagogue in Tel Aviv with a three-course meal replete with traditional holiday foods including latkes and turkey.

After the meal, Tel Aviv’s deputy mayor Asaf Zamir led the Chanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. This event was also sponsored by the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth L’Israel, JNF and the FIDF as a part of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s ongoing social events for its Olim and Lone Soldiers.

As a gesture of showing thanks and in order to promote acts of kindness towards those less fortunate, dinner guests were encouraged to donate lightly worn clothes for the event’s clothing drive.

“We are excited to have teamed up with White City Shabbat on this exceptional holiday event. This was a great opportunity for young professionals and lone soldiers to enjoy a traditional festive meal and express their thanks together with fellow Olim from around the country,” said Benji Davis, Events & Programs Coordinator at Nefesh B’Nefesh.

White City Shabbat is a volunteer-run portal for Jewish life in Tel Aviv that hosts a range of intercommunity events, including its hugely successful monthly Shabbat meals.

As a native Brit, Deborah Danan doesn’t feel that Thanksgivukkah is exclusive for Americans. “The theme of Thanksgiving is anyway inherent to the festival of Chanukkah which all Jews celebrate,” said Danan, who co-directs White City Shabbat together with Eytan White, “And of course, as our tagline states, ‘you don’t have to be American to give thanks!’ People from a broad spectrum of nationalities are coming together to show their gratitude for being able to celebrate this unique holiday in Israel.”

Garin Tzabar: Helping Lone Soldiers Feel At Home In Israel

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

These lone soldiers, hailing from countries including the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Turkey and Azerbaijan arrived in Israel without their families to join the Israel Defense Force and help build the Jewish nation.  ’Garin’ means seed in Hebrew but can also refer to a group of people who collectively immigrated to Israel and ‘tzabar’ refers to the ‘sabra’ cactus fruit which is prickly on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside, a euphemism to describe Israelis.

The Garin Tzabar program is in charge of bringing these lone soldiers to a kibbutz or Israeli city, providing them with an adopted family, a Garin community that supports them throughout their army service and Hebrew classes to assist their immersion into the IDF.  Several months from now the new recruits will begin to serve in the Israeli Army.  The Garin Tzabar  ensures lone soldiers receive support and attention on their birthdays, during holidays, Shabbat, and their days off .

The State of Israel officially welcomed this year’s Garin Tzabar participants during a special ceremony held at Tel Aviv University. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  gave a video greeting praising these young Jewish men and women and  numerous other government officials attended the event.

MK Sofa Landver, who addressed the group, stated, “We are here to receive the immigrants and the soldiers in our country, the most wonderful country in the world. It’s you who have come to serve and defend Israel. You will change the world.” A representative of Nefesh B’Nefesh added, “It’s not just a plane ride, it’s the destination and that’s Israel. Enjoy your new life.”

Netta Gelb, a new Garin Tzabar participant, was born in the Israeli city of Netanya and has spent the past 15 years growing up in Canada. Although she has Israeli relatives,  she is leaving behind her parents and siblings.  Gelb expressed the excitement many Garin members felt when she said, “I have been really looking forward to this for a long time.”

Michael Kosky, another Garin Tzabar participant, added, “We have come here to play our chapter in Jewish history. I am part of this program. Good luck to every one here.”  A lone soldier already serving in the IDF named Ariella, who hails from an Argentine family and grew up in both America and Israel told the audience that she holds dear the “values of loyalty to the state, its people, and the Tzabar members” and said to the new recruits “If you live together, you will learn a lot.”

Eitan Press contributed to this report.

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Israel to Welcome Young Immigrants Joining the IDF

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

This week, 125 young men and women from North America will board a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight to Israel, where they will live their dream by joining the Israel Defense Forces.  According to Yael Katsman, director of marketing and communications at Nefesh B’Nefesh, 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.

Eitan Press contributed to this report.

Visit United with Israel.

American Friends of IDF Open up New Home for Lone Soldiers

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

A new home for Lone Soldiers in Israel was opened in Ramat Gan with a special ceremony marking the conclusion of the $5 million project launched by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, headed by Elias and Lila Kalimian and family of Great Neck, N.Y.

Thousands of young men and women from around the world serve in the IDF at any given time with no family or other support system.

The Lone Soldiers’ Home provides a place for the soldiers to stay during their time off. The Kalimian Lone Soldiers’ Home contains 42 apartments with four beds in each apartment.

The Friends of the IDF also sponsors Lone Soldiers’ Homes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Three generations of the Kalimian family joined “From Holocaust to Independence,” the FIDF delegation to Poland and Israel, prior to the dedication.

IDF’s Arizona Girl Receives ‘President’s Excellence Award’

Friday, April 19th, 2013

President Shimon Peres last week presented the annual President’s Citation of Excellence to a native of Arizona, 24-year-old lone soldier 2nd Lt. Nira Lee.

She grew up in Tempe, Arizona, in a Zionist household, but she had no intention of making aliyah. Her first trip to Israel was in 2004, when at age 16 she attended a group discovery trip with the B’nei B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). “At that time, I did not feel a special connection to Israel nor a personal obligation to be here,” 2nd Lt. Lee explained.

On her second trip to Israel, during her first year in university, everything changed. She volunteered on a trip with Hillel to live in Akko and rebuild a school that had been destroyed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. According to 2nd Lt. Lee, “being in the periphery and not necessarily touring the popular sites of Israel helped show me the different side of Israel. It showed me the people who needed help, and that was the first time I personally felt connected to this country.”

After that experience, 2nd Lt. Lee decided to support Israel from the inside. At the time, she was studying International Relations at AmericanUniversity in WashingtonD.C., and decided to do a test run by studying abroad in Haifa during her third year. “I chose Haifa because I understood it to be a much more authentic environment, one that seems closest to normal life in Israel,” she said.

The test run proved difficult for 2nd Lt. Lee. She knew no Hebrew. She was also overweight and in poor physical health. “I decided that if I wanted to help Israel, I would have to make a few personal changes first,” she said.

In 2008, 2nd Lt. Lee was in Israel when the security situation in Gaza deteriorated and Operation Cast Lead was initiated. The IDF called up reserves, many of whom were friends of 2nd Lt. Lee’s. “Being there during Operation Cast Lead and feeling so futile made me want to enlist in the IDF. Seeing my friends being called up while I remained in the comfort of my dorm room made me want to join them.”

Second Lt. Lee decided there and then that the next time Israel’s citizens would be called to defend the state, she would be among them. Following her year abroad, Nira learned to speak Hebrew fluently and, through personal determination and strength, lost 55 pounds on her path to physical health.

She made aliyah in May 2010 and enlisted as a lone soldier in the IDF five months later. At first, the transition was difficult. “No one knows the difficulties of being a lone soldier,” she said, adding that finding a place to live and setting up her life were great challenges.

Her commanders noticed that she was struggling and made great efforts to help her. “My commanders made it possible for me to have normal soldier concerns, rather than concerns such as where I would sleep that night or if I would have food to put on my plate. Instead of worrying about a place to do my laundry, and ending up washing my clothes in the shower at the base, I was able to focus on the reason I was there: my job in the army,” she said.

She completed the IDF Officers Course in 2011 and became the deputy liaison officer to the international community in the Gaza Strip. She is currently responsible for assisting in foreign access and the transfer of medical supplies into Gaza.

This week, 2nd Lt. Lee will be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. She has been in the IDF for almost three years and is signed on for another six months. After completing her military service, she plans to earn a master’s degree in security and diplomacy at TelAvivUniversity.

After she received the President’s Citation of Excellence on Israel’s 65th Independence Day, she said, “It’s a huge honor for me to receive this award. Being a new immigrant, there are certainly times you feel you do not fit in, but the army is the epitome of how this country unites people.”

From Quaker High School to the IDF: Profile of a Lone Soldier

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. That may have been the case for 20-year-old Akiva Goldstein who decided to make aliyah and join the IDF after graduating from high school – a Christian one.

“I think that if I had gone to the Jewish high school, I’m not sure if I would be in Israel today,” Goldstein says.

Goldstein made aliyah at the end of 2011, leaving behind his family, friends and a girlfriend, none of whom, have an intention to follow him (except for vacations and visits).

He was recently inducted into the IDF’s elite Paratrooper’s Brigade.

Goldstein was raised in a Jewish-conservative household in Philadelphia, attending the Jewish elementary school of Solomon Schechter and Camp Rama in the summers. He chose to go to the Quaker Friends’ Central High School in part because of the school’s focus on athletics, but also in order to broaden his horizons.

Though the school had a large percentage of Jews, Goldstein explains that “the majority of them are less than reform, they maybe go to synagogue once in a year, they don’t know much about Judaism.”

So with an obviously Jewish name, a Star of David necklace, and his greater knowledge of Judaism, “I was the token Jew, even though I wasn’t orthodox,” he said.

Being the sole identifiable Jew and one of the only students with a connection to Israel, “strengthened my Zionism,” he explained, as it was no longer something he could take for granted.

It also made Goldstein “realize that there are so many Jews that don’t have a connection to the place that we call home.”

“If I continued like that, if I turned into that,” and “if Jews continued to do that, there’s going to be no one left, just the silent annihilation of Judaism.”

Camp Rama and Michael Levine

But a Herzilian realization about the necessity of Zionism after spending time in a non-Jewish setting wasn’t the only thing that drove Goldstein to Israel.

At home, Goldstein was raised in a Zionist environment, filled with Judaica and ornaments from Israel and where Israel “was part of our discussion,” his mother, Pearl, explained. The family has made many trips to Israel, the first time with Akiva when he was six-years old. Both of his siblings studied for a year in Israel, one in yeshiva and the other at Hebrew University.

Akiva, however, gives most of the credit for his decision to move to Israel and join the army to the Israel-focused atmosphere of Camp Rama, of which his father is currently the President (an unpaid lay-leader position).

“Every summer they would have 30-40 Israelis working at the camp, sports, lifeguards…there were families that came from Israel and their kids were in our age groups.”

Another factor at the camp was Michael Levine, the American lone soldier killed in action during the Second Lebanon War, whom Goldstein admired from afar.

Levine had to literally force his way into the army. When Levine approached the IDF recruitment office, he was not allowed in because he had not received his first draft notice. So he scaled the compound’s wall and climbed in through a bathroom window on the second floor.

By the time Levine was in the army, people in the camp knew, even though he no longer attended the camp.

Goldstein says he even remembers Levine visiting the camp, during Levine’s month’s leave, a few days before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War.

Levine’s death affected the entire camp. One evening, people closest to Levine in the camp, like Levine’s twin sister Dara who was a counselor in Goldstein’s age group, were called away one by one, until the night’s activities were finally cancelled.

“It was a very sad and terrible night,” Goldstein recalled.

While Levine wasn’t Goldstein’s inspiration for joining the IDF – something Goldstein had always wanted to do – Goldstein said he joined the paratroopers “in honor of Michael.”

Pushing his way in

Like Levine, Goldstein also had to push himself into the army recruitment office when he too was not allowed in without that first draft notice which would provide the date for an initial interview.

When he was told at the entrance that he wouldn’t be allowed to enter, he declared that he would wait there until he was given a date.

“So I sat there for five hours” until “someone came out and said you can do it right now.”

Campus Activists to Army – Lone Soldiers Speak

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.

The lone soldier.

Hundreds of pro-Israel campus activists graduated this year, and dozens of them plan to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Serving in the Israeli military before, during, or after college can be a logical extension of a student’s commitment to campus Israel efforts. They serve in various forums, including hesder, Garin Tzabar or directly enlisting independent of any organization.

The IDF defines a soldier whose immediate family does not reside in Israel as a lone soldier. Various benefits such as an increased salary, a choice of an adopted family or kibbutz, an allotment of cell phone minutes that can be used to call abroad, a free plane ticket to visit family outside Israel and an extra piece of luggage when making aliyah all are part of the lone soldier experience.

Today, 5,600 “lone soldiers” are enlisted in the IDF, and some of them worked tirelessly on behalf of Israel on U.S. campuses prior to donning IDF uniforms.

Brian Maissy is a past co-president of UC Berkeley’s Tikvah: Students for Israel, and soon he will become a lone soldier through the Garin Tzabar program. He noted a direct correlation between the challenges he faced as a campus Israel advocate and his decision to move to Israel and join the army.

“I saw injustice on campus,” he told ICB. “Students [were] spreading lies about Israel. I took it upon myself to counter the falsehoods and teach the truth about Israel and Zionism.

“I look at my army service the same way,” Maissy continued. “As a member of the Jewish people I have an obligation to help defend the Jewish state. My decision to enlist is an acceptance of that responsibility.”

Dov Lerner, 24 and former ZOA president at the University of Maryland, just signed on for two more years of service in the foreign affairs unit of the IDF. After four years of his active involvement in the Israel campus scene at UMD, including combating the BDS movement on campus, Lerner has a nuanced experience of what it means to be a lone soldier.

Speaking to ICB about the final night of a weeklong field maneuver exercise, Lerner shared a profound experience that he said he wants campus activists to understand.

“That night, we sat around a campfire and received food baskets from generous donors,” he said. “Everyone immediately tore apart the packages and began consuming the large quantities of chocolate, wafers and Bamba. I sat there staring at the package, which read: ‘To the heroes defending the land of Israel, stay safe and have a happy Purim, from the Brooklyn Chapter of the ZOA.”

When Lerner performs seemingly absurd tasks like running and shooting drills, or “washing a battalion’s worth of forks while on kitchen duty, or while mopping the library,” he must constantly remind himself of why he chooses to defend the country.

However, none of those absurd moments matched the feeling he got when he received those gift baskets from the ZOA. Six years earlier, Lerner had been packing those same packages for Israelis and now, in uniform, huddling around the fire to keep warm in the frigid desert night Lerner’s officer turned to him to ask, “How does it feel to be on the other side?”

“It is very different making the case for Israel on campuses than actually sitting on the border with a gun guarding the country,” Lerner said. “Having done both, I know that they are both extremely necessary.”

Another former campus activist who went on to serve as a lone soldier in the IDF’s elite Shaldag commando unit recalled that his attendance at an AIPAC conference 10 years ago, as a high school student, had a pivotal effect on him.

The former activist, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his military duties, recalled that Benjamin Netanyahu had met with a crowd of college student attendees at the conference. The past and future Israeli Prime Minister recounted a scene soon after his arrival at MIT: Fresh out of three years of IDF service, the new freshman found himself handing out leaflets at a pro-Israel rally. At first glance, Netanyahu thought little of its significance, but soon thereafter, he said, he realized that campus activists abroad and IDF soldiers “fighting the same battle.”

Lone Soldiers: Atlanta-Born Aircraft Technician Says Living in Israel ‘Settled his Soul’

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Brad, 24, grew up in Atlanta, GA, where he attended a Conservative Jewish day school.

“We always studied about Israel,” he says. “One period every day was either about the Holocaust or about Israel.”

In the eighth grade, his entire class was supposed to go to Israel for three-weeks, but “It was just after the start of the second Intifada, so they took us to New York instead, which wasn’t as much fun…”

Brad says he was left with a yearning to go visit Israel some day. He continued through a public high school, then took Accounting in college.

“About four months into the course, I was sitting in class one day, and I said to myself, This isn’t right for me. I’m eighteen, I’m young, I want to go see the world.”

He contacted the Birthright organization and joined their Taglit program. “They took us for two weeks, paid for the plane ticket there and back, they paid for food, hotels, everything.”

He went without any of his friends. “I always like to travel alone,” he says. “I meet new people and I can do whatever I want to.”

Besides showing the young Americans the sites, the Taglit staff tried to familiarize them with life in Israel. Brad liked what he saw. When he came back to America he missed it. “Immediately, I started looking for ways to get back to Israel,” he says.

His family was very supportive. “My parents grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. My dad was part of the Beitar youth organization there. When he was 18 he wanted to go serve in the IDF, but his father became sick and my dad had to stay and take over the family business.”

Brad did some research and decided to attend a five-month program at a kibbutz ulpan. “We were a group of 36 people, living on the kibbutz and learning Hebrew. I was working in their sprinkler factory.”

Instead of living an insular life in the ulpan, his five months were a time of discovery. Every weekend, Brad and five of his friends from the kibbutz program would travel to different spots, exploring the country. It also helped him with his Hebrew.

“Every day that went by, I felt more at home,” he says. “I felt that my soul was settled.”

In 2008, after the ulpan, Brad and two friends rented an apartment in Tel Aviv, and continued their exploration of Israel.

Eventually he returned to America and stayed with his parents, working as a car mechanic. But he couldn’t stop missing the country he had begun to think of as his home.

Finally he called Nefesh B’Nefesh and decided to make Aliyah. He told his parents, then went through the process. An adopted child of Christian birth parents, Brad was converted by a Beit Din in Houston, TX, but says he had to advocate for his right to be accepted as a Jew. “I told them I didn’t believe any person could sit and judge me and say, We don’t think you’re Jewish enough, only God can judge me.” he says.

A month later he received a letter apologizing for the mishap, he was welcome to make Aliyah as a Jew. Now he had to tell his parents.

“My mom turned white, but my dad had the biggest grin I’d ever seen on his face,” Brad describes.

“When we landed in Israel,” on the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, “they took us to the old terminal and there was a massive celebration, with soldiers, flags, about 500 people, crying, Thank you for coming to Israel… And I said to myself, this was a right decision.”

Brad says he walked off and cried for half an hour. “It was utter joy, utter happiness.”

He stayed with friends in Hertzelia, found a job after less than a week, and met a young woman he fell for head over heels. A few months had gone by, and he received his first notice from the Army, inviting him to come in and register for his compulsory service.

When his enlistment order had come in, he took his girlfriend and flew to see his parents in America. His mother begged him not to go into a combat unit, and he promised to pick a different direction – even though he had been admitted into the paratroopers unit. His recruiting officer understood, and together they figured a new tract.

“I’ve always had a dream to work on combat planes,” he says.

He went into infantry basic training with “regular” Israelis, rather than an ulpan-oriented course. He was concerned about his everyday Hebrew skills – but ended up at the end of the course more fluent in Hebrew than he would have been with fellow English speakers in the ulpan.

He was recruited by the IAF and took a course for fighter aircraft technicians. Before being accepted, though, he had to convince committees and individual officers that his Hebrew was good enough. They even asked him to become an English tutor instead. But he insisted, and the Army gave in.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/israel/idf/lone-soldiers-atlanta-born-aircraft-technician-says-living-in-israel-settled-his-soul/2012/04/25/

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