Parents Ensure Their Lone Soldiers Feel at Home From Far Away

In honor of many other lone soldiers and their families, Debbie Lurie coordinated an event — Lone Soldier Program: Making Sure Lone Soldiers Always Feel at Home — at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El on June 1. 

Debbie Lurie’s son Avi knew what he wanted to do with his life at the age of 13.
And that worried her.
Avi, now 19, is halfway through his Israel Defense Forces (IDF) service as a lone soldier, or a soldier who does not have any immediate family in Israel to go to for support.
He is a sharpshooter in a paratrooper unit, while the rest of the Lurie family remains in Philadelphia. 
“He’s wanted to be in the IDF since he was 13, at his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel,” his mother explained. “That’s when he turned to his father and said, ‘I’m gonna be a lone soldier. I’m gonna be a paratrooper.’ And when we asked him why, he said, ‘Because Israel needs protecting, and I’m going to protect her.’
“Now I’m smiling,” she laughed as she talked about her son more.
In honor of her son and many other lone soldiers, Lurie coordinated an event — Lone Soldier Program: Making Sure Lone Soldiers Always Feel at Home — at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El on June 1. 
The event will include speakers Michael Meyerheim, chief operating officer and parents coordinator of the Lone Soldier Center, and Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman, who will join in a dinner for parents of lone soldiers and young people interested in joining the IDF.
Following the dinner, they will show Jerusalem U’s movie Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew, the story of an Ethiopian lone soldier working his way up through the army. 
“I’m proud of him, and I remain proud to this day,” Lurie said of her son, her voice breaking. “Of course, I always have that little side of my brain that worries about him and doesn’t sleep as well.”
That’s where the Lone Soldier Center comes in. Created by the parents of Michael Levin, who was the first paratrooper to fall during the second Lebanon war, the program supports these soldiers financially, socially and emotionally during their military service. 
On June 7, 2014, Avi turned 18. Four days later, he graduated from Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. Less than a week after that, he was on his way to Israel.
Lurie was able to visit him last October for his beret ceremony, in addition to the surprise visits back home arranged by Avi’s older “conspirator brothers” Sam and Saul.
“The Lone Soldier Center has helped my son and helped other lone soldiers whose parents, I know, work very hard,” Lurie said. “I think it would be great for the Jewish community to know and learn more about this.
“People hear about lone soldiers and think, ‘Oh that’s nice’ but might not truly understand that these are young men and women who are voluntarily putting themselves through real army training in a country where they are living 24 hours a day in a situation that could be deadly and dangerous. That they have that dedication and determination I think is something people would be interested in knowing about and should know about.”
Rabbi Neil Cooper at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El also was crucial in arranging this event.
“Lone soldiers have become an increasingly larger percentage of the IDF,” he said. “And what people here may not realize is that in the army in Israel, soldiers routinely will be let out to go home for Shabbat. The Lone Soldier Center provides a comfortable place for these young soldiers to come who have nowhere else to go.”
And that’s something his son Yonatan wished he had.
“My wife and I have seen this in real life this since our son was a paratrooper in the IDF and made aliyah,” he noted. “As soon as he heard that Michael Levin was killed — Michael was a friend of my son’s — he said, ‘Someone needs to take his place. I’m going.’ And he up and moved to Israel just like that.”
The lone soldier program “is something that provides opportunities for the soldiers to get some help in a practical way — getting from here to there — whether it’s health, in terms of special needs they may have in order to function more effectively in the IDF, or it could be something that is important for them to eat.
“The center has the responsibility of also being a support for the soldiers beyond the physical structure that they come home to.”
Rather than just a fighting force, Cooper said the IDF is a great equalizer of Israeli society, and parents should know that their children will not be neglected in the army. 
“The fact that the IDF beyond protecting Israel is the passageway that leads into Israeli society — the great equalizer, everybody goes through this,” he said.
“The relationships that are forged in Israel are often lifelong relationships because these are people who literally have the other’s back. They protect each other, they work together and it becomes a very powerful experience.” 
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