700 Lonely Soldiers Had a Brighter Hanukkah

Michael Cohen, M.D., Program Manager

The Lone Soldier Project at the East Valley Jewish Community Center supports active-duty Lone Soldiers who serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Lone Soldiers are young, Jewish adults from 60 nations who volunteer to serve in the IDF but have no family in Israel to assist and support them. These young people are courageous and dedicated to the survival of Israel.

About 1000 of total 7000 Lone Soldiers in the IDF, at any one time, are from the United States. Approximately one-half of this total are actually Israelis who also have no family, because they are orphaned, victims of neglect, handicapped, or from ultra-orthodox communities which they have left.

These volunteers face numerous obstacles to accomplish their goals. Initially, they must learn enough Hebrew to follow commands and interact with Israelis on a basic level. Cultural adjustments and understanding how daily services are acquired can be challenging. Because Israel is a very small country, when they are on leave or have time off, most active-duty Israelis go home regularly while serving. Those from outside the country either stay on base or are isolated in apartments they’ve rented with other foreigners. Being far away from family can be particularly difficult on holidays.

Lone Soldier Centers have been created where they can spend Sabbath, celebrate Jewish and national holidays, and find new friendships and a supporting staff. Our local project supports these centers by sending donations to assist with the cost of Sabbath meals and holiday celebrations. We also send homemade knitted hats for warmth on winter assignments.

Our annual Hanukkah Greeting Letters campaign was just completed. Since September, we have educated over 550 students at congregation religious and Jewish Day Schools throughout the Valley about Lone Soldiers. We ask all students and many adults through other organizations, including Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation, to write Hanukkah Greeting letters and letters of appreciation for the important role they play in defense of the Jewish homeland. Over 700 drawings and letters were sent this year.

If you have an interest in joining this gratifying effort, please contact us at [email protected].