In Israel, the term “Lone Soldier” applies to any IDF soldier whose parents do not reside in Israel. This often applies to foreign volunteers, new immigrants, or those citizens and returning citizens whose parents have moved abroad.
The army has a special system set up to help these soldiers cope without the support of a family structure. A social welfare NCO is attached to every military unit who oversees the needs and issues which can arise in the soldiers personal life, and helps to alleviate any problems which may adversely affect the soldier, thereby causing their military performance to drop as a result.
From personal experience on both sides of the equation, being a lone soldier in the IDF had its perks. However, it was certainly a lot more difficult than being a soldier whose family is present in the country and can provide a warm, welcoming and supportive home to come back to whenever one is on leave.
Despite the challenges, each year close to 2,000 soldiers show their support for Israel and their Zionist ideology by enlisting in the IDF. That is why the IDF goes out of its way to help these soldiers. The military sees it as giving back to the volunteer soldiers who dedicate themselves to protecting our country. And that is why the entire country values their sacrifice and supports them as well.
A Lone Soldier is Not Alone
The most recent outpouring of love and affection for lone soldiers was shown in a very clear and demonstrative way during Operation Protective Edge, as Israelis came out in droves to remember the lives of the various lone soldiers who perished in defense of the Jewish State.
Over 20,000 people attended the funeral of lone soldier Sean Carmeli in Haifa, with the very popular local Maccabi Haifa Soccer team, Sean’s favorite team, messaging all of their fans and asking them to come out and attend.
The message, which was sent to thousands of fans, said “do a mitzvah (a good deed) and attend the funeral of fallen IDF soldier Nissim Sean Carmeli, so that his funeral will not be empty. Carmeli was a lone soldier, and we don’t want his funeral to be empty. Come to his funeral Monday night to pay respects to a man who died so that we could live. This is the least we can do for him and for our nation.”
A few days later two other lone soldiers were laid to rest: Max Steinberg, from the US, in Jerusalem, and Jordan Bensemhoun, from France, in Ashkelon. An estimated 36,000 people attended the two funerals. Many of the attendees in Jerusalem stayed for a second funeral of Uzbekistan born Dmitri Levitas who was buried an hour after Steinberg.
The families in all three instances were overwhelmed by the massive crowds and outpouring of love shared by the thousands of well-wishers around them.
Jordan’s father, who had flown in with the rest of Jordan’s family from France, asked Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, “Do all these people know my son?”
Sharansky responded by saying, “This is the secret of Israel. In reality, there is no such thing as a lone soldier.”
Maya Tapiero, a Canadian from Montreal, attended the funeral of Steinberg, even though she didn’t know Steinberg personally. She told Breaking Israel News, “Everyone feels it personally on a certain level. Everyone who attended went to support the family but also because they really felt the loss. People who didn’t know him were crying and visibly pained. The speeches were very moving, especially the ones made by his sister and his friend who is also a soldier, and was on Taglit (Birthright) with Max, where he got his inspiration and desire to become a soldier.”
When Tapiero was asked why she felt the desire to go and pay her respects to someone she didn’t know she said: “I went because I felt the loss strongly, the way we all felt it when we heard the news…about the soldiers from Golani brigade. The soldiers are people we know from the streets, from school, from shops and parties. Additionally, he was a lone soldier, and for those guys whose families don’t live here, you go. We are that family. That was reiterated over and over again at the funeral today. It’s why 30,000 people showed up. He was one of our own at a national level.”
The same idea formed the theme at Bensemhoun’s funeral. “You are no longer a lone soldier,” Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said. “Look how many people are around you, look how many have come to say goodbye.”
The lone soldiers, through their military service, provide a shining example of the Israeli spirit for all to see. Itai Leibovitch, Bensemhoun’s commanding officer, said at the funeral,“From the moment I met you, I realized I didn’t know what real Zionism was.”
Recalling the young man’s commitment, Leibovitch said that during training he had to convince Bensemhoun to take leave and see his parents after he had not seen them for nearly a year.
“They come here to defend the country, even though they don’t have to,” said Tzvika Levi, head of a kibbutz project that supports lone soldiers. “They always tell me: ‘If we die, we die for a good cause.’”