Inside View Jan/Feb 2015
When high school graduates in the United States head off to college or work, Israeli graduates enter the military. Men are required to serve for three years and women for two. Men remain in the reserves until they are 40.
This is the price demanded to live in a neighborhood where most people are committed to your annihilation. The IDF protects, secures, and fights for Israel.
Jane’s Information Group, a British publisher specializing in military topics, considers the IDF the most powerful military in the Middle East, with 176,500 active frontline personnel. That is quite a feat for a nation of merely 6.5 million Jewish people.
The IDF also includes about 6,000 lone soldiers—Jewish young people who move to Israel all alone, without family, specifically to serve in the military.
What would motivate an 18- or 19-year-old to leave the comforts of home to travel to faraway Israel to be a soldier? On our October Up to Jerusalem tour, we were privileged to meet with two lone soldiers. They are sisters Leigh and Shiri Lasman who grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Both moved to Israel after graduating from high school. I wish you could have been with us to hear them tell of their love for Israel, the homeland of their fathers.
Shiri, a trainer in the Israeli Air Force, composed the following lines in the few free minutes she had before talking to our group. It reveals her heart and the challenges and rewards of what it means to be a lone soldier. With her permission, I share it with you:
To be a lone soldier,
To pack two suitcases at the age of 18.
To say goodbye to your parents, your friends, your boyfriend and get on a plane from New York to Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, with no ticket back. To go to a place that feels like home and that has changed a lot since you last were here. To get down from that plane and see millions of Israeli flags waving at you, and many smiles.
To enlist in the army, full of motivation and have to explain to the Israeli girls, over and over, why you would do such a crazy thing. Why, instead of going to college and getting a degree earlier, you’re volunteering two years of your life to the army.
On weekends, instead of throwing your bag on the floor and giving your laundry to mom, you have to manage your bank account, and do your own laundry, even though you have no idea how.
To make a million mistakes and learn from them. To grow up with no choice. To be independent.
To close Shabbat on base and hope that maybe mom is going to surprise you with your favorite food, like the other moms do.
To constantly remind yourself why you came, when things get a little hard.
To feel that no matter how far away from home you are, you’re already home.
To grow up and learn things about yourself you never knew before. To be independent. To know that after this service, there is nothing in this world you can’t do.
To understand that not only does this country need you, but you need it too.
To be a lone soldier.
Thank you, Shiri, Leigh, and all who serve in the IDF, both active and reserve. God uses your service to preserve Israel in a dangerous neighborhood and to make it possible for people to visit the Holy Land in safety.
A portion of the money given to our Israel Relief Fund supports the Lone Soldier Center in honor of Michael Levin (lonesoldiercenter.com) to help these brave young men and women who serve as lone soldiers.