Survey: Vast majority of lone soldiers make aliyah

90% of IDF volunteers from the Diaspora move to Israel permanently after their service - and they're bringing their families with them.

Ari Soffer,

Line soldiers making aliyah (file)
Line soldiers making aliyah (file)
Flash 90

An overwhelming majority of "lone soldiers" - volunteers from the Jewish Diaspora who join the Israel Defense Forces - make aliyah following their service, a new study has revealed - and most of them are bringing their families with them as well.

Some 3,000 lone soldiers serve in the Israel Defense Forces each year, and according to the survey, conducted by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Merage Foundation, fully 90% of discharged lone soldiers say they see their future in Israel.

The survey was conducted among immigrants who served as lone soldiers - that is, soldiers without immediate family in Israel - and today live in Israel after having been accompanied by the "Wings Program," which "helps ease the soldiers’ integration into civilian life and prepares them to live independently by offering them accompaniment by both professionals and volunteers and providing them with guidance on financial matters, employment, and academic studies." 

It was conducted to "examine the challenges faced by lone soldiers as they approach the end of their military service and in order to develop additional tools to ease their integration into civilian life." But the results also reveal the enormously positive impact Israeli military service has on them.

And it's not just the soldiers themselves: 62% of those polled said they had family members who followed their example and made aliyah themselves.

The majority of those who made aliyah did so for ideological or "pull" factors, with 43% saying they made aliyah in order to live in Israel as Israelis, and a further 23% explaining that they did so to live as Jews in the Jewish state.

Others made aliyah in order to make a "fresh start" in life (36%), while smaller minorities chose to make aliyah either due to a sense of personal insecurity in their countries of origin (10%), or due to the difficult economic situation in their countries of origin (9%).

Demographics

Respondents haled from a range of countries: 50% of those surveyed came from the former Soviet Union, 22% from North America, 11% from Western Europe, 10% from Latin America, and 7% from elsewhere.

An overwhelming number - 84% - said their families supported their decision to immigrate to Israel.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given their intense immersion in Israeli culture, the vast majority of lone soldiers who made aliyah said they feel well-integrated into Israeli society following their discharge from military service.

58% of those surveyed said they consider themselves first and foremost as "Israelis," compared to only 29% who said they still consider themselves as "immigrants." 

78% said they feel that other Israelis care about them. The same percentage said they have good friends among both Israelis and other olim, and that they feel involved in what is happening in Israel.

90% of those surveyed say their command of Hebrew is good enough to enable them to handle life in Israel with ease.

Economic challenges

The survey also sheds light on the many challenges faced by lone soldiers following their discharge from military service, including financial and professional uncertainty.

54% of those surveyed said their greatest challenge upon completing their service was deciding what academic studies to pursue; 36% said financial matters were their greatest challenge; and 34% said they were most concerned about their ability to find employment.

Despite that, 88% said their life was on the right track (78%) or “set” (10%), and the same number said that their direction in life was clearer than (45%) or as clear as (43%) that of their Israeli-born peers.

A large majority of those surveyed (72%) said their participation in the Wings Program strengthened their sense of direction with regard to finances, employment, academic studies, and other challenges facing them in civilian life, and 97% of those surveyed said they would recommend the program to other lone soldiers.

Commenting on the findings, Jewish Agency Executive Chairman Natan Sharansky praised the "pioneering" spirit of the lone soldiers

"These young men and women - who have chosen to leave their families, make Aliyah, and become integrated into Israeli life in the most active way possible - are the pioneers of the Jewish people and they are our future," he said.

"Israeli society must mobilize to advance the national mission of absorbing these immigrants and helping these young people become integrated into all aspects of life in Israel."

Merage Foundation Founder David Merage described the results as "inspirational."

"Not only has the growth of the program been encouraging, but the impact of the program on lone soldiers and their families has been truly inspirational," he stated.

"Wings was created when we identified a need to support lone immigrant soldiers and ease their transition out of military service. From workshops on higher education opportunities to lessons on navigating the systems for accessing national insurance payments to learning to read a rental contract, our goal has always been to prepare these young people for Israeli life after their service. And, today, I am so very proud of the work we have done, and am excited that the number of lone soldiers is increasing and the Wings Program is growing to meet the demand."


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