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    Aliyah Wings

    Dave Bender, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
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Wings: Supporting Lone Immigrant Soldiers in a Time of Crisis

Each year, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) identifies approximately 2,500 “lone soldiers,” young olim (immigrants) who courageously left everything familiar to make Aliyah and take an active role in securing a strong Israel.

Through Wings, The Jewish Agency plays a unique role as the IDF’s designated partner for preparing lone soldiers for civilian life, providing them with counseling, diagnostic testing, and other services that empower and support them for up to two years following their discharge. 

Approximately 40% of lone IDF soldiers are from the former Soviet Union (FSU). An additional 40% are of North American origin, and the remaining 20% come from over 20 countries around the world, including Australia, South Africa, and France. During Operation Protective Edge, approximately 70% of lone soldiers served in combat roles. Of the 64 Israeli soldiers who have been killed since the start of Operation Protective Edge, three were lone soldiers. Dozens more lone soldiers have been wounded, some of them critically. In addition to the hundreds of lone soldiers on active duty, many more lone soldiers serving in the Army Reserve have been called up in recent weeks.

Lone soldiers have made incredible sacrifices to protect the Jewish homeland in a time of emergency, and while Operation Protective Edge has made extraordinary demands on all soldiers serving in the IDF, for lone soldiers, who made Aliyah on their own, the conflict intensifies the challenging adjustment to life in a new country. As Major Galit Bihanik-Barber’s letter indicates (see appendix), Wings is an anchor for these soldiers, who lack the supportive networks of friends and family available to their Israeli-born peers. Many lone soldiers have suffered from injuries and psychological trauma without the comfort of having family members nearby. For soldiers who have lost friends and commanders in battle, the trauma is particularly acute. Wings works closely with two clinical psychologists who provide immediate interventions for soldiers under psychological duress. These psychologists also monitor lone soldiers for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their intake into the program, so they can be referred to mental health care professionals for ongoing therapy, medication, and other necessary services.

In addition, we have enhanced core programming for lone soldiers, providing the following services:

Care Packages: We distribute care packages of supplies and essentials to wounded and traumatized soldiers who do not receive them from home.

Hospital Visits: Staff and volunteers regularly visit lone soldiers who are in the hospital recuperating from injuries incurred during the conflict.

Phone Guidance and Mentorship: Wings staff and volunteers provide guidance and mentorship by phone to lone soldiers, many of whom are experiencing anxiety and doubt about living in Israel alone so soon after their release from the army. Several lone soldiers whose comrades were killed in action have called Wings staff in need of urgent interventions.

Group Workshops: Wings will conduct group workshops led by mental health professionals, which will help lone soldiers and reservists learn how to process trauma and develop emotional resilience.

Replacement Seminar: The first step in the Wings continuum of services is a five-day intake and pre-discharge seminar, in which soldiers receive essential guidance on practical matters such as financial management, job searching, and college/university applications. About 80 lone soldiers were unable to attend the seminar this summer because they could not be spared from their combat duties. We will hold a replacement seminar for these soldiers in the coming months.

Financial Assistance to Unemployed Reservists: Approximately 40 lone olim who have served in the Army Reserve during Operation Protective Edge have had difficulty finding or resuming employment upon their release.

Travel for Family Members of Moderately Wounded Soldiers: The IDF pays for flights for the families of soldiers who are critically wounded. The Jewish Agency has extended this important safety net to bring family members to lone soldiers whose wounds may not be life threatening, but are serious enough to require hospitalization and rehabilitation.

Support and Assistance for Visiting Family members: Family members who travel to see their wounded sons and daughters often have great difficulty navigating their stay in Israel and dealing with the IDF and Israeli hospital systems. Moreover, some arrive in Israel with no personal belongings or resources. Wings provides approximately 1,000 NIS worth of vouchers so that these family members can purchase food, clothing, and other essentials, and staff members assist parents in dealing with the IDF and the hospitals.

Assistance for Family Members of Fallen Soldiers: In the most tragic cases, Wings assists families who have lost a child who was serving as a lone soldier in the IDF. Wings has helped with arranging flights and other assistance to grieving families during this very difficult time.

 

PERSONAL STORIES

Eitan S. (name changed to protect privacy), a 24-year-old lone soldier from Turkey, came to Israel alone at the age of 14. Eitan was critically wounded during his service in Gaza, with damage to multiple organs. Eitan was brought to the hospital unconscious and placed in intensive care. The IDF reached out to his parents, who were separated, to inform them of their son’s injury. When the IDF called Eitan’s father in Turkey, the father was so shocked that he had a heart attack and passed away. Eitan’s mother received the news while visiting relatives in the United States, and immediately came to Israel on her own to be with her son as he recovers. Through Wings, she is receiving financial support and the services of a social worker in Israel. In addition to rehabilitating from his injuries, Eitan must cope with the news of his father’s death. Eitan’s wife, who is also receiving financial support from Wings, says that her husband is recovering quickly thanks to the support, love, and care he has received from those around him, especially from The Jewish Agency and Wings. Eitan will continue to receive psychological counseling after his release from the hospital, per his request.

Amos A. (name has been changed) made Aliyah from Russia with his family in 2000. In 2006, the family left Israel following the second Lebanon War. Amos, now 25, moved back to Israel alone and joined the army. He is now married and working a minimum-wage job as a waiter to support both himself and his wife, who does not work. Amos was drafted from the reserves as a tank driver, and served in combat in Gaza. Amos has been receiving counseling through Wings to deal with the trauma of combat, and with the guidance of program staff will enroll at Jezreel Valley College in October.

Samuel G., a lone soldier from Australia, was moderately wounded by shrapnel during Operation Protective Edge. In addition to the trauma of his injury, Samuel saw his immediate commander killed before his eyes. Samuel’s mother could not afford to visit her son in the hospital in Israel, so Wings paid for her flight and provided her with financial assistance for her stay. Samuel also received a care package from Wings, and is undergoing evaluation by the program’s psychological professionals. To express her thanks, Samuel’s mother wrote the following letter:

To The Jewish Agency and the dear, generous people who made my trip to visit my son possible:

I would like to thank you for your generosity in providing the airfare for myself and my daughter to visit Sam. On hearing that he was injured, all I wanted to do was to be with him, hug him, and help him to heal in whatever way possible. The funds provided by The Jewish Agency enabled me to do so. A mother’s first wish is to protect and care for her child, no matter what age they may be. To have spent a week with Sam immediately after his injury allowed me to nurture him in the way I wanted to and in turn allowed him to sit back and enjoy, for just a short time, being a son and brother again. He loved that he was able to rest in comfortable surroundings after having lived in basic conditions on bases and in the field for many months and then in absolute squalor for the 2-3 weeks in Gaza. He cherished the time with his younger sister just being together watching TV, sunbathing, sharing an ice cream, and just being normal siblings -- an experience he never has in Israel being a lone soldier with us, his family so far away.

Sam outwardly seems ok. His injury on his shoulder is healing nicely. He spent time catching up on lost sleep and talking to many of his friends both in Israel and Australia. I was fortunate to be able to visit with Sam the family of Roi Perez, his commander who was killed in Gaza in the same attack in which Sam was wounded. The family were sitting shiva for him. During that visit, Sam spoke in detail with Roi’s family last week about the attack the unit sustained while in Gaza. He was able to provide many intimate details to the family last week, as well as little anecdotes which provided them with much needed information and insights. To have seen Sam in that situation, able to help a family during their time of grief, was very emotional but one that made me very proud as a mother.

Although Sam and his unit are all traumatized by the loss of their officer, they have already re-formed and are back together on base. I believe they will get through this as a group with the help of the army and other professionals. There is plenty of support for lone soldiers in Israel by The Jewish agency and the IDF.

Thank you for assisting in allowing us to visit Sam. We will always appreciate your generosity and knowing that there are people out there who support Israel and its soldiers unconditionally.

Kind regards,

Susan G.

28 Aug 2014 / 2 Elul 5774 0
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