When a child moves to Israel, there are always mixed emotions experienced by the family left behind. Pride, of course, because we live in a community where we raise our children to have an active and healthy love of Israel, but also worry, fear, concern and a host of other emotions, knowing the physical distance is great and the adjustment period may not always be easy, even in a country we love as much as Israel. All these emotions are magnified exponentially when a child moves to Israel and then volunteers for the IDF.
Known as “lone soldiers,” these are young men and women who move to Israel and join the army with no immediate family living there with them. Living in a foreign country, without anyone to walk them through the language and the process, these soldiers may find the cultural adjustment just as hard as adapting to army life. With full support of the IDF, as well as full cooperation from FIDF (Friends of the IDF), Nefesh B’Nefesh established the Lone Soldiers Program to support the young men and women leaving their homes and serving in the IDF. Today, the IDF estimates that approximately 3,500 lone soldiers serve in the army.
“For these soldiers, military service is both challenging and empowering,” explained Nefesh B’Nefesh in their literature. “We are the sole aliyah organization that works directly with the IDF,” explained Tani Kramer of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Tzippy Giller of Bergenfield is a parent of a lone soldier. Her son Yossi is in the army in Israel while the rest of his family lives in New Jersey. Giller found herself worrying about what life would be like for her son, what she could do to help him in Israel when she is far away in New Jersey, what he has access to in Israel and how he would navigate a foreign language and culture, plus a host of other questions that kept her awake at night. She happened to find information about a webinar for parents of lone soldiers given through Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“The Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldier division is there to tell you everything parents can use to help,” Giller said. “They make things a little less scary when you know someone is there holding your kid’s hand and advocating for them. It gives my kid someone for them to turn to in Israel.”
The Lone Soldier Program gives the young men and women as well as their parents access to information about benefits they are entitled to, days off, financial aid and emotional support, as well as other assistance that may be required along the way. The program also serves as a means of communication with the families of the soldiers. The Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldier Program has parents on staff who have been through the experience themselves, which makes the level of support much stronger as well.
“They know what you’re going through because they have been there themselves,” said one parent.
“For those required to draft due to Israeli law, the goal of our Lone Soldiers Program is to ensure that every lone soldier oleh is provided with a strong support system while assisting them through every step of their army service,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. “Providing information and support to the parents of these amazing young men and women is an integral part of our program’s holistic approach.”
Lisa Kroopnick, also of Bergenfield, found the thought of being a single parent and having a child in the IDF too daunting to face on her own. Giller introduced her to the network of parents she met through her own experiences, and brought her to an event for parents of lone soldiers. Kroopnick is proud of her son Shlomo, who is a chayal boded in a charedi unit, but she also worries about his safety. “I am so grateful to everyone at Nefesh B’Nefesh and especially their Lone Soldier Program and all of my new ‘army mom friends’ as we support each other through the army journey,” she said. “The network that the Lone Soldier Program and Nefesh B’Nefesh provide for us goes beyond the financial aspects, and the amount of information they have and share with parents is priceless,” she said.
Knowing how helpful this event was for her, Giller is graciously opening her house in the hopes that other parents of lone soldiers will come and learn what programs and support exist for their children. On Thursday, October 18, parents of lone soldiers will be able to attend an informational program hosted by the Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldier Program. This will be
an opportunity to hear from a former lone soldier, learn from government representatives about IDF rights and benefits and IDF programs and resources for families, as well as have the chance to meet other parents of lone soldiers.
“You don’t realize how much is out there that you are missing until you go to one of these events and see what exists to help your child,” said Giller, who said people were even taking pictures of the slide show presentations to try and capture every piece of information shared at the last event.
Kroopnick, Giller and the many parents who are part of their new network of friends are extremely grateful for the support and information of the Lone Soldier Program. “It’s important to grab these information sessions when you have the chance,” said Giller. “See what they are doing to help.”
Kroopnick also appreciates the support on a whole community level. “The volunteers at the Lone Soldier Program know how we feel and can be there for us,” she said. “The support from the program and the community has been so important. We live in a community where the rebbeim in shul make a mi shebeirach for the chayalim, and it’s incredible to know that Rav Sobolofsky includes my son by name. It’s not always easy to go through, but to know the community supports your family and the Nefesh B’Nefesh-FIDF Lone Soldier Program is there supporting our children makes things much easier.”
By Jenny Gans