On a midweek July night, nine women met in person for the first time. Though they came from varying backgrounds, these women shared a common bond; they all currently have a child or children serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a lone soldier. Prior to this Teaneck meeting, the women had only met virtually in one of many private Facebook groups for mothers of lone soldiers.
When a family’s worst nightmare happened in Passaic, Friends of the Lone Soldiers quickly organized a brainstorming session at Sababa Grill in Teaneck, to decide what they could do for the family of Shlomo Zalman Rindenow. They sat at the table for over three hours, just talking, thinking and discussing.
The group consisted of two women from New York and several from New Jersey; they came from as far away as Monsey and East Brunswick. Each mother introduced herself by giving a full background of her child/children, including where they were raised, what school they attended, their age, unit in the IDF, why they wanted to serve, how long they had been in and how long they would be serving.
The stories were all different. Some children had gone to yeshiva, some to Solomon Schechter and others had attended public school. Some had already finished college, others had not yet started. Some of the parents were Israeli. Some of the lone soldiers had made aliyah and others were volunteering in the army.
One of the women has a son who is engaged to be married next month. Another has a daughter who just got engaged. Once married, one is no longer considered a lone soldier. When one has a spouse, he or she is considered an immediate family member who can care for the soldier’s needs.
While single and without immediate family members in Israel, there are many benefits to which a lone soldier is entitled. At one of the many outposts of Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin (LSC), soldiers can pick up donated items they may need. Also, the soldiers are given one extra day per month off to do things their parents would normally do for them. Additionally, the army pays for the lone soldiers to fly home once during their service to visit with their parents.
A woman from Springfield had come to the dinner with a package for her son, which she gave to a woman from Manhattan who is going to Israel this week and will deliver the package.
The two women were Facebook friends who were meeting for the first time in person.
The Lone Soldier Centers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv supply Shabbat meals, holiday gatherings, social events and assistance with any difficulties that may arise where parents are not available.
The LSCs advocate for the lone soldiers, while providing a building at which the soldiers can gather on their time off. Supplies like blankets and socks are donated. The centers, which were established in 2009 by a group of former lone soldiers, are operated by professionals, with many dedicated volunteers.
The statistics on the LSC website keep growing, with 35 percent of the approximately 6,000 IDF lone soldiers now hailing from America. They are joined by members from 52 foreign countries, with 50 percent who are orphaned or come from socio-economically poor families in Israel.
The Lone Soldier Center seeks to set up chapters in America to help raise money and awareness for the LSC and its mission. These groups also act as social settings for families of lone soldiers to meet others and share stories.
That was no problem for one of the mothers. Two years ago when she and her husband returned to their West Orange home after visiting their lone soldier, it was a very stressful time with a lot of fighting in Israel. She immediately called for a meeting at her house, after finding 35 families in MetroWest with boys or girls who were lone soldiers. They started bi-monthly meetings in homes and initiated fundraisers.
This year, that same mother made it possible for the LSC to march in the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City. After the parade, 150 families joined for lunch at a Manhattan synagogue.
Now growing chapters all over America, the Friends of the Lone Soldiers Centers are evolving.
One of the mothers at the dinner concluded, “It was a magical night and I felt like I knew these people forever; there was a nice bond.”
The magical evening ended with the mothers saying, “We need to do this again. Everyone present felt we were part of something special.”
For more information, go to www.lonesoldiercenter.com. To donate, please make checks payable to FJC-Lone Soldier Center and mail to P.O. Box 10724 Fort Dearborn Chicago, IL 60610 USA.