They are young, they have often just finished high school and they have their future ahead of them. Enrolling in university, getting a job, earning money or maybe traveling throughout the world. But some of the Jewish adolescents in the diaspora decide for something totally different. They travel to Israel to join the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
These persons are called lone soldiers. In general, the term “lone soldier” refers to ordinary conscripts who lack a traditional family support network within Israel like volunteers or new immigrants whose parents are abroad or Israelis without families like orphans or from “broken homes”.
According to official army statistics from December 2014, 6,191 lone soldiers were enrolled in the IDF last year. That is more than in any preceding year. Among them were 3,484 lone soldiers that grew up in another country, immigrated to Israel leaving family and friends behind to contribute their share to the Jewish state. These soldiers came from over 70 countries with a quarter of them coming from the USA followed by Russia and the Ukraine. Around half of them serve in combat units or in combat-support units. The figures regarding the share of female soldiers are surprising. Almost a third of recruits from abroad are women.
During operation “protective shield”, three lone soldiers lost their lives: Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli from the USA and Jordan Bensemhoun from France. According to Israeli media over 30,000 mourners attended the funeral of Steinberg and some 20,000 the funeral of Carmeli in last year.
But what motivates young Jews to join the IDF even though their center of life is outside Israel?
A 22 year old man from New York that serves in the IDF explained his motivations. “In the United States, I worked for a business company and earned pretty well. But after working there for a couple of years, I had the feeling that there must be something more in life, something meaningful,” he said. “As a Jew Israel was always a central part of my life.” In the first months he learned basic Hebrew before his military service started. He doesn’t regret his decision at all, “I became a different person, a stronger one.”
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