The State of Israel mandates that each Israeli man aged 18-25 and woman aged 17-20 serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In most Israeli families, this reality is met with proud expectation.
However, every year thousands of people from all over the world voluntarily choose to serve in the IDF when they immigrate to Israel, often alone. These “lone soldiers”, an official army term, have no family support within Israel.
Additionally, there are people who receive the “lone soldier” status because they are orphaned Israelis, come from dysfunctional or broken homes, or have been disowned by their ultra-orthodox Jewish families who frown upon serving with the IDF.
These nearly 6000 IDF soldiers are entitled to and, often, are in need of extra care. Though the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Housing and Construction provide benefits to lone soldiers, LIBI, the official fund of the IDF, does what it can to assist these government offices in helping lone soldiers succeed in their military service.
“Soldiers from standard Israeli families receive a lot of physical and emotional support,” explained Dr. John A.I. Grossman, LIBI USA Chairman. “When a family member goes off to serve or comes home to visit, they are showered with gifts, food packages, cleaned laundry, and, of course, a lot of love. LIBI USA supports lone soldiers so that they can also feel that they have family in Israel to count on.”
LIBI USA helps lone soldiers in a variety of ways. As the official humanitarian branch of the IDF, LIBI is in direct contact with the IDF Welfare Department, which relies on the organization to fill in the gaps for the needs of soldiers.
LIBI also provides lone soldiers with a permanent place to live for the duration of their three-year service. “Lone soldiers need to know that they have a place that they can call home,” reflected Grossman. “Housing is furnished and given appliances through LIBI donations. LIBI even ensures that soldiers are not too hot or cold by providing heaters and air-conditioners.”
LIBI sponsors about 100 lone soldier apartments on kibbutzes, in special Soldier Houses (hotel-like buildings only for soldiers), or in private apartment buildings. The organization pays all of the bills including electricity, water, property taxes, cable TV and more.
Apartments are walking distance to Soldier Houses so that they may be easily reached on the Sabbath. Soldier Houses are located all over Israel, including southern Eilat and Beer Sheva, central Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and northern Tiberias. Any soldier can enter these buildings by showing their military ID and receive a bed, food, and more. Special Sabbath meals are served here as well.
In another perk, lone soldiers are entitled to visit their families abroad for one month during each year of their service. As tickets are costly, LIBI covers the expense for this much-needed break. “Lone soldiers are so grateful to visit their families through this trip,” noted Grossman. “They write a thank-you note to whomever sponsored their flight.”
LIBI also supplies lone soldiers with food vouchers. In a thoughtful gesture, they give every battalion extra vouchers for soldiers who may be in need even if they are not alone in Israel. Commanders use their discretion to distribute these vouchers, which are sponsored through “Adopt-a-Battalion”.
All Israeli military units have some lone soldiers. They are known for being highly motivated, as they voluntarily chose to serve and protect the Land of Israel.“For new immigrants, serving in the army often helps them integrate into Israeli society, develop their Hebrew language skills and learn cultural norms,” noted Grossman. “LIBI USA is committed to the success of lone soldiers as they have committed themselves to the safety of Israel.”