Every year, thousands Jewish teens from all around the world leave their homes and volunteer to serve in the IDF. Their official status is that of “lone soldiers,” because they leave their families behind and come to Israel alone. Most of the new Israelis are asking to serve in combat units, a lot of the men are asking for elite units. While the women are also after female combat unit “Oketz”, medic’s course and more. Around 3,000 “lone” soldiers from around the world currently serve in the IDF, 30% of which are from North America, 30% from Russian speaking countries, others are from France, Latin America, and other countries. The program enable young Jews from all over the world to volunteer for the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and become regular Israeli soldiers. The programs aim to contribute to Israel’s defense and to provide knowledgeable and enthusiastic young leaders for Jewish communities.
I was once on a plane from Atlanta to Milan Italy on business. A young man wearing a knitted yamaka was sitting next to me. We started talking. He was from New Hampshire; an only child raised by a single mother in an area that wasn’t very Jewish. He told me that he was on his way to Israel to join the IDF as a volunteer. As we got closer to Milan, he asked me if I could give him tips on how to get around the city as he had about seven hours layover in Milan and he wanted to see the city. I told him that I could do better than that. When we landed, I cancelled my morning meetings and took him to downtown Milan, showing him all the major tourist attractions and then put him on the fast train back to the airport. This was the least I could do for such brave young man on his way to become an Israeli defense force soldier.
Michael Levin, born in Holland, Pennsylvania in 1984, made aliyah to Israel in 2002, and joined the Paratroopers Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. He was on overseas leave in Pennsylvania when the 2006 Lebanon War broke out. Though the IDF told him he was not required to return, he cut his visit short to rejoin his unit, telling his family “I have to go back.” When he reported for duty, the IDF assigned him to guard in Hebron, preferring not to send a lone soldier to the front line, but Levin was adamant on fighting in Lebanon, and successfully requested permission to do so with the Paratroopers. He was killed in action on 1 August 2006. Levin’s death received a great deal of attention; over 2,000 people attended his funeral on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
During the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, three lone soldiers were killed: Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli from the United States, and Jordan Bensemhoun from France.
Meet the volunteers