The brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect Israel inspire us. The IDF's lone soldiers - those who come to the Holy Land from abroad, bringing with them only their love of Israel - are particularly inspiring. Writing at The Times of Israel, IDF veteran Joel Chasnoff tells the story of one lone soldier, Michael Levin, whose service and death a decade ago fighting Hezbollah have led thousands to bring their passion for the Jewish state to the IDF:
By now the Michael Levin story is legend: a 130-pound youth group kid from Philadelphia sneaks into the IDF Induction Center, talks his way into a tryout for the paratroopers, and passes, against all odds. When war breaks out in Lebanon, he finds himself on lone soldier leave in Philly. Determined to fight, he catches the first plane to Israel, joins his unit, and is killed in a firefight on August 1, 2006. Two thousand people attend his funeral on Mount Herzl. They came to salute the lone soldier who has become the face of all lone soldiers...
The IDF defines a hayal boded — a lone soldier — as a soldier with neither parent residing in Israel. There are 6,300 lone soldiers currently serving, spread out in every branch of the IDF, from Navy SEAL-equivalents to Oketz dog handlers, combat engineers to cooks.
Half of these lone soldiers are immigrants from the US, Europe, and a handful of other countries. The rest are ultra-Orthodox Israelis whose families disowned them for their decision to join the IDF.
Until Levin was killed, few in Israel knew what a lone soldier was. I say this from experience...
But it’s not just about an IDF with more lone soldiers than ever, or that they’re finally getting the recognition they deserve — it’s about what lone soldiers bring to the army.
Mike Meyerheim, from up north, describes a recent basic training ceremony for the Golani Brigade. “They called up all the mitztainim, the Outstanding Soldiers, from each battalion. The commander of the Golani Brigade turned to me and asked how it was possible that so many of these mitztainim were lone soldiers.”
For Harriet and Mark, the answer is obvious. “Lone soldiers add what the army really needs,” Harriet says. “The love of Israel. The passion for the country.”
Avi Lurie sees it firsthand. “Israelis are forced to do this, but we want to. When Israelis see this — when they see kids like me who want to serve — it changes the way they think about their own service.”
This is Michael’s invisible impact. And I’m convinced it couldn’t have been just any lone soldier. It had to be Michael Levin.