Choosing to leave one’s family, home, language and culture in order to join a foreign army to protect the Biblical homeland and people is a truly courageous and selfless act. Yet the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has thousands of recruits who have done just that.
“The State of Israel was built by the dedication of people from all over the world yearning to come back to the Holy Land, protect it and develop it,” Brigadier General Yehiel Gozal, CEO of Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers, told Breaking Israel News. “We are moved that young men and women continue to leave the comfort of their home countries and join the IDF.”
These young people, known as “lone soldiers” since they lack family in Israel, need a place that they can call home. Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers provides that home away from home by housing lone soldiers in private apartments or communal living facilities.
“Yahad is the only official organization supporting the IDF in Israel with 100 percent of every donation fully transferred to directly aid Israeli soldiers,” explained Gozal. “Ensuring that lone soldiers have a warm and welcoming place to live is one of our top priorities.”
Yahad sponsors 100 four-room apartments throughout the Holy Land, called “Bayit Ham” in Hebrew. Bayit Ham means “warm house”. These are for soldiers who prefer a quieter atmosphere and individual living space. Six hundred lone soldiers dwell in these apartments for the duration of their three years of service in the IDF.
The apartments are located in major Israeli cities including Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Haifa, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Holon, Rishon Letzion, Rehovot, Jerusalem, Ashdod and Beersheba. “Yahad received some of these apartments through people who generously requested in their wills that after their death their apartment be given to help Israel’s soldiers,” shared Gozal with Breaking Israel News.
“They are conveniently located near community services and city centers which helps to ease the transition of lone soldiers into Israeli living.”
Soldiers who live in a Bayit Ham are cared for as closely as possible to the way a family would care for their own child. Apartments are fully furnished and all expenses are paid by Yahad including, rent, city tax, electricity, water, food, cable TV and maintenance. “We even have staff who do the soldiers’ laundry,” shared Gozal. “This is actually a huge help to the soldiers who need to come off the field and rest and not have to worry about their dirty uniforms.”
The more communal “hotels” are called “Batei Chayal” in Hebrew, which means soldier houses. These are also conveniently located throughout the Land of Israel and host thousands of lone soldiers. Soldiers residing in Batei Hayal eat their meals together in a dining room and prefer a much more social atmosphere. They are provided with cultural activities, such as lectures, theater and movie tickets, barbecues and more.
Soldiers in both living situations regularly receive home-baked cakes, treats and invitations for Sabbath meals from local Israelis who are doing their part to help lone soldiers feel that Israel is their home.
In addition to the physical help that the soldiers receive, every Bayit Ham and Batei Hayal has a staff of volunteers who were lone soldiers themselves and have now completed their service. These “Big Brothers” are available 24 hours a day to counsel and guide the new recruits.
“Yahad does everything we can to give soldiers a sense of home and the feeling that they are not alone,” said Gozal. “We aim to improve the quality of life of the lone soldiers during their military service and assist them in any way we can so that they are prepared to successfully integrate into Israeli society upon discharge.”