A lone soldier, whether a new oleh or a volunteer, is one who serves the Israeli Defense Forces on his or her own initiative without the immigration of the rest of their family to Israel. Each year, the IDF accepts thousands of soldiers like these. Though they receive more benefits from the army than the average soldier, lone soldiers often find themselves feeling isolated and disconnected socially, as they must adjust to a new social and familial life in a new country.
The Michael Levin Memorial Center for Lone Soldiers is an organization that provides an array of services to lone soldiers in their integration to both the army and the State of Israel. It defines itself as "the first and only organization solely dedicated to taking care of these brave young people who come to Israel from around the world to defend Israel and by extension, the Jewish people." In the following video, Jules, a former loner soldier and volunteer for the Michael Levin Memorial Center, explains some of the center's goals and the services it provides.
The Michael Levin Memorial Center is run by a team of volunteers, most of whom are former lone soldiers themselves, dedicated to the memory of fallen lone soldier Michel Levin. Levin died in battle in Lebanon on August 1, 2006, at 22 years old; his dream was for there to one day be an organization that would help lone soldiers.
The center provides lone soldiers with advice and counseling, help in finding apartments, Shabbat meals, trips, and social events before during and after their army service. The center’s slogan is "Lone soldiers are no longer alone.” Tziki Aud, the founder and activity coordinator of the center, was Levin's adoptive father during his service, and he wanted to name the center after Levin to keep his memory alive.
Israel National News recently interviewed Josh Flaster, also a former lone soldier, and director of the Michael Levin Memorial Center. Originally from Phoenix Arizona, Flaster's first real exposure to Israel, Jewish history, the history of Zionism, and the State of Israel was on a high school trip, where he immediately felt a connection to the Land. He later decided to come to Israel and serve as a lone soldier while he was a student at Yale University during the second Intifada. Although he was very active with pro-Israel advocacy and events on campus, he explains, "The Intifada was something that upset me, and was something that was very hard for me to see and grasp while living in America. I wanted to do what I could do to defend the Jewish people and the State of Israel, so I came to Israel and joined the army the summer after I graduated from college, serving in a Special Forces infantry unit as a lone soldier.
He describes his experience in the army as "pretty typical for a lone soldier" in the sense that he did not live on a Kibbutz, nor did he have any family or adoptive family in Israel. "It was difficult," Flaster remembers, "I didn't always have a place to go on Shabbat, and didn't always know where to do my laundry. And more often than not, I didn't know what was going on, what I was getting myself into, or what the army entailed. There were parts of my service that I felt could've been nicer, easier, more pleasant, and more successful had I had a little bit more information and support outside of the army – these are the needs we're trying to fill at the center that I'm helping to run now, and we're trying our best to provide them to all lone soldiers in the army."
The organization is only about a year old, but has been a center for help and support for over 1000 lone soldiers, helping them with army bureaucracy issues before going into the army, setting them up with meals, and acting as a guide and resource once they get out of the army and are ready to adjust to civilian life. When asked what the biggest reward is while working with these lone soldiers, Flaster says, "the biggest reward is down the road—to see the guys and girls who come in for help succeed more in the army, have a more pleasant experience during their service, and to have a place they can call home when they get out." Most of all however, he admits, the main goal of the center is "to have the soldiers feel comfortable in Israel so that at the end of the day, they'll succeed and want to make Israel home. Our goal is to help people who want to stay in Israel and who come here because they care about Israel and the Jewish people and want to give back."