December 29, 2009
by Hillel Fendel
Of the 2,500 IDF soldiers whose families do not live in Israel, three-quarters say they want to remain in Israel.
A survey of 113 “lone soldiers” – soldiers whose families do not live in Israel – finds that a full three-quarters of them see their future in Israel, despite the hardships they face at the present time.
“Lone soldiers” are recognized by various organizations, and in the words of one of them, “They dedicate all their time and strength to protect us and our families, but have no place to go when their friends leave for the Sabbath; no one to wash their clothes, send them packages, or to help them in other ways…”
Among the organizations and bodies that try to rectify this situation are:
* Merage Foundations Israel, which helps integrate the young lone immigrant soldiers into society in various ways;
* AWIS (Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers, known as HaAgudah L’Maan HaChayal), which rents out and furnishes 154 apartments around the country, in which 878 lone soldiers reside;
* the IDF’s Manpower Branch, which finds families who wish to host the soldiers for Passover and other holidays;
* Beit Kobi – named after fallen soldier Kobi Ichelboim and funded by his mother Aviva – which provides lodging, “adoptive” families, holiday gifts and post-army educational help for lone soldiers;
* Project “Adopt a Fighter” in Jerusalem, which helps match up lone soldiers with adoptive families;
* and more.
The survey was carried out by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Merage Foundation among 113 soldiers who are soon to complete their IDF service, with the purpose of mapping out those factors that help integrate the soldiers into Israeli society, and countering the factors that block this process.
The aid provided by various bodies helps the soldiers feel more “Israeli” and “at home,” said 79% of them. Expressions of support from Israelis and establishing a family in Israel are also positive factors, according to 75% and 67%, respectively.
Asked what might block their desire to remain in Israel, a surprisingly low 22% said lack of knowledge of Hebrew, and 47% cited economic difficulties. This was seen as an indication that a feeling of belonging in Israeli society, as manifest in the first three factors, is more important than “external” factors such as finances and language.
The Jewish Agency and Merage have run a workshop for lone soldiers, explaining to them the ins and outs of every-day economic life in Israel, such as opening a bank account, writing a check, renting an apartment, and the like.
Some 700 lone soldiers complete their army service each year.