Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) has unveiled a new program designed to assist the parents of lone soldiers and pay for them to visit their children in Israel.
'Lone soldiers' are IDF troops who do not live with their parents. An estimated 2,900 of the 6000 lone soldier currently serving have parents living overseas, and many do not have the financial means to visit their children in Israel.
Bennett's initiative, which is modeled after the successful 'Birthright,' would subsidize visits to Israel for parents of current lone soldiers,in a joint project run by the Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Ministries. The program would include flights, guided tours, and lodging. The soldiers would also get special leave from the IDF in order to spend time with their families.
"The parents and families of lone soldiers are providing the nation what they value the most and throughout their service, they do not see their child and are not in any official contact with the State of Israel," Bennett told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
"We must work to strengthen their contact with their families as part of a commitment on behalf of the government of Israel, which has a commitment to Jews around the world."
Lone soldiers are highly regarded in Israel's family-oriented society, and the government provides them extensive assistance during their service. Soldiers with parents living overseas are entitled to a fully funded flight home during their service through a program run by the Friends of the IDF (FIDF) and are given a special 30 day leave every year to visit family.
Lone soldiers are also allowed to take off 8 days annually from the IDF should one of their parents visit Israel.
Bennett has shown his appreciation for lone soldier before, having awarded the 2017 Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement to Tzvika Levi, known as the 'Father of lone soldiers' for his decades-long effort in looking after their welfare.
Bennett had touted Levi as "one of the finest sons our country has produced - a Zionist role model, but above all a father to thousands of isolated soldiers who found in him an address [to turn to], while he was father, mother, listener, friend, and brother for them."