From Bill Sutter’s Desk Jan/Feb 2010
A dynamic factor in the Jewish people’s prophetic return to Zion is a special group of several thousand young men and women designated as “lone soldiers.” Leaving everything behind, including their families, they move to Israel all alone from the United States and scores of countries around the world to study Hebrew and become part of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Their determined support for the nation of Israel includes a willingness to fight to defend the Jewish people. That’s why an unusually high percentage of lone soldiers seek frontline combat and serve with specialized units that require more intensive training for their potentially greater exposure to direct enemy combat.
Though independent and resolute, Israel’s lone soldiers say their greatest difficulty is being away from their families. Shabbat dinner is an important time for the ingathering of close family. It’s when lone soldiers frequently go to the homes of their army friends. Sometimes they are guests in the homes of other Israelis who are known to be supportive of lone soldiers. Shabbat dinner may even require randomly knocking on the door of a home and being warmly received as a special guest for this weekly event.
One lone soldier’s story has become an inspiration for countless numbers of Jewish young people. Staff Sgt. Michael Levin, a native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, left family and friends at age 18 to pursue his heart’s desire to support Israel and the Jewish people by serving in the IDF’s elite Paratrooper Unit #890.
He became known to hundreds of Christians who participated in The Friends of Israel’s twice-yearly Up to Jerusalem tours. For several years after he moved to Israel in 2002, he spoke to and fellowshiped with our tour participants. We were devastated to learn he died on August 1, 2006, defending Israel on the front lines of the Hezbollah-precipitated war in South Lebanon. Michael’s bravery made headlines throughout the United States, as well as in Israel.
But the story of Michael Levin and Israel’s response to its lone soldiers did not end with his funeral, which was attended by thousands in Jerusalem. His inspirational story lives on through the annual screenings in Israel of A Hero in Heaven, a documentary film featuring his life, heroism, and death fighting for the Jewish people.
Michael Levin’s lone-soldier status has given high visibility to the needs of all of Israel’s lone soldiers. “Michael Rooms” have been designated on army bases throughout the land as places where soldiers without family in Israel can rest and relax. “Michael Levin Rooms” have also been designated on numerous kibbutzim (collective farms).
At Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, site of one of the fiercest battles in Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War, a memorial section has been established in Michael’s honor. A website has been launched (www.aheroinheaven. com); and Michael’s parents, Mark and Harriet Levin, have founded the Michael Levin Memorial Fund for Israel. Said Mark, “Sponsored activities include special gatherings of lone soldiers in Israel for fellowship and recreation, and the sponsorship of parent visits to their lone soldiers.”
Recently a Michael Levin Memorial Center was dedicated in Jerusalem as a well-equipped, major center for lone soldiers. There they use the computers, fax machines, and telephones and can enjoy specially prepared Shabbat dinners.
The Friends of Israel’s Up to Jerusalem tour groups frequently stop at Michael’s grave at the National Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl. His grave is reportedly the most visited of thousands there. It’s covered and surrounded with memorabilia of all types—from notes and memorial stones to sports items like a Philadelphia Phillies cap, the baseball team Michael followed closely.
The Zionist fervor that characterizes Israel’s lone soldiers has attracted increased attention and support from the IDF and the State of Israel. These men and women receive financial, tax, and other benefits and are welcomed at Jewish holiday dinner celebrations.
The story of Israel’s lone soldiers is unique to the Jewish state. It’s also thoroughly biblical and prophetic, as the prophet Isaiah foretold:
Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, “Give them up!” and to the south, “Do not keep them back!” Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth (Isa. 43:5–6).