When he was 4 years old, Yoni Weisinger of Teaneck told his mother that he wanted to live in Israel and be a soldier.
And that was that.
In 2009, after finishing ninth grade, Yoni started the quest to fulfill his dream. He went on to complete high school in Israel, before beginning his army service. According to his mother, L’via, who still lives in Teaneck, “He was ‘adopted’ by an amazing Israeli host family in Chashmonaim when he was in 12th grade, before his service, and they have become like family to him and have given him a real home.” While he completed his service, he always had a place to go. Now, he’s out of the IDF and lives in Israel
This isn’t always the case for lone soldiers.
There are more than 6,500 lone soldiers serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Lone soldiers are unusual people. In most instances, they leave their countries of origin and their families and move to Israel to become citizens and part of the Israeli Defense Forces. There also are other lone soldiers, who come from Israel, but from families that don’t believe in serving in the army, for religious or other reasons. In some cases, those lone soldiers are rejected by their families because they want to join the IDF. There are other soldiers — other lone soldiers — who have families that are too poor to support them.
But the majority of lone soldiers travel thousands of miles, in some cases more, and some cases less, to follow lifelong dreams. Michael Levin, of blessed memory, was one of those lone soldiers.
Michael made aliyah from Philadelphia in 2002; four years later, he joined the paratroopers. In the summer of 2006, when he was on leave and back home in Philadelphia visiting his family, Hezbollah ambushed an IDF patrol and kidnapped Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. War broke out along Israel’s northern border. Michael cut his trip short to go back to Israel and rejoin his military unit. He died in what came to be called the Lebanon War. He was 22.
Being a lone soldier, with no friends or family nearby, can be isolating. Michael, who knew that from his own experience, often told his friends that he had a dream of establishing a center where lone soldiers could go to for meals, support, and advice during their time in the service. With the help of a group of lone soldiers, family, and friends, in 2009 the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin was founded.
Bonnie Rosenbaum is the Meals and Community coordinator for the Lone Soldier Center and she describes what the center offers these brave soldiers: “These homes are where the soldiers live like it is there own apartment. Not only for weekends, but during the week as well. They each have their own bed in their room, which doesn’t change.
“There is a live-in madrichah,” a counselor, “like an RA in a college dorm, who is a former lone soldier and one of our advisors from the center,” she continued. There are also communal activities, so the soldiers are able to relax and hang out with each other. “The homes integrate lone soldiers from Israel and other countries, because they have so much to learn from each other, yet they have so much in common,” Ms. Rosenbaum said.
There are now three homes that have been established for lone soldiers. They are funded by private donors from around the world, but most of their support comes from the United States. These funds cover not only the homes, but also things like Passover seders and four additional Passover meals for more 400 soldiers. The Lone Soldier Facebook page always has new posts trying to help these soldiers — finding them meals and equipment that they need. Israelis always try their best to show gratitude to these men and women, who pick up and move to Israel to serve its people. There are constant bake sales and clothing drives all to make sure that no soldier, lone or otherwise, ever feels alone.
“The lone soldiers either have to find an Israeli family to adopt them —and pay them rent from their salary — or get an apartment with other people,” Reshi Isaac of Teaneck said. Ms. Isaac’s daughter, Elianna, served in the IDF. “My daughter was lucky and lived with my husband’s niece and nephew,” she added. “They had an extra room for her on the weekends. Most lone soldiers don’t have relatives in Israel so it’s really amazing if they can have their own ‘home.’”
Up until now, there have been homes for only male lone soldiers, but many woman are in the IDF, so establishing a home for them was the natural next step. This home will be in the Mekor Chaim neighborhood of Jerusalem, and it will be for 10 women. Money for these homes is important, but they also need toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, mouthwash, soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, Advil, razors, shaving cream, Purell, baby wipes, baby powder, aa and aaa batteries, headphones, tampons and pads, Q-tips, neosporin, locks (key and combination), head flashlights, energy bars, sports bras, portable chargers, G-shock watch, Leatherman multitools, Gatorade power, sunscreen, and bug spray. The Lone Soldier Center asks visitors to Israel to bring some of these essential supplies with them. Write to Bonnie Rosenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on where to drop them off, how to make a monetary contribution, or to find out how to have your family participate in a bar/bat mitzvah chesed project that could benefit the Lone Soldier Center.
The center’s website is lonesoldiercenter.com.