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What causes young Jews from all over the world to come to Israel and enlist in the Israeli army? Perhaps it is an echo of “Lech Lecha” from the time of Avraham Avinu? Perhaps it is Jewish pride. Perhaps it is for adventure. Whatever the reason, in the IDF, lone soldiers are a special breed.

Ari Friedman
Ari Friedman

The term “lone soldiers” refers to ordinary conscripts who lack a support network: orphans, Israelis whose parents are abroad for part of or all of the year, Israelis who come from broken homes; chareidi soldiers whose parents have disowned them and those young men and women who come from abroad to enlist in the IDF.


Rosh Tzurim in Gush Etzion is a popular kibbutz for religious lone soldiers. It offers a rural setting close to Yerushalayim and has a small community of approximately 200 families. Each lone soldier is assigned to two or three families, who host them for meals during Shabbatot and chaggim.

Most of the English-speaking lone soldiers who live in Rosh Tzurim seem to gravitate to our home. For instance, there is twenty-year-old Binny Ovadia from San Diego. “I was always interested in the idea of being drafted into the IDF,” Binny stated. “I had many friends who served and I heard a lot of stories, so the idea was floating around in my head for a couple of years prior to my draft. My family was very surprised that I decided to enlist, and, for a while, they were against it. As time went on my family started supporting my decision.

“The families that have taken me in and the kibbutz in which I live have really changed, in a positive way, my experience in the army. Having meals taken care of by other people frees up my time while off base and allows me to go home without the stress of having to prepare three meals for Shabbat,” Binny said.

Binny described a bit of army life. “The army is what you make of it – like most things in life. I’ve gone entire weeks sleeping an hour a night, marching through the rain and knee-high mud, carrying 40% body weight for days on end, and marching 70 kilometers in sixteen hours… Being in the army means doing everything from polishing boots and making lunch, to arresting people, doing riot control and ambushes.”

Sasha Rulev, who was born in Khmelnitsky in the Ukraine in 1994, was inspired to enlist in the army “to thank the land and those who help guard me.” He serves as a combat soldier (parachutist) and is presently on the Gaza border. He and his mother communicate via email or Skype. While she was initially against his joining the army, she is now proud of him.

Last May, Sasha attended an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Adopt a Fighter Organization. The army had flown in the mothers of twenty lone soldiers. It was so heartwarming to see the video of twenty soldiers, including Sasha, standing unsuspectingly on the stage as a group of mothers suddenly came towards them. Sasha had not seen his mother for three years!

Religion plays a large part in Sasha’s life. “Religion really helps me during the hard times. It gives me koach,” he explains. He was in the army for Yom Kippur and he was not optimistic that there would be a minyan, but almost all of the soldiers came to services.

What Sasha dislikes in the army is the political side. “There are times when we would like to do something, but our hands are tied. For instance, when I was stationed in Chevron, leftists would come and try to provoke us, but we were not allowed to do anything about it.”

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Adina Hershberg is a freelance writer who has been living in Israel since 1981.