Military service is mandatory in Israel, with men serving about three years, and women serving two. It is also absolutely necessary, because Israel is a small nation with a relatively small population, and is surrounded by enemies sworn to her destruction. All Israelis must do their part to make the nation safe for all of her citizens. As the Bible says, “Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps” (Isaiah 5:27).
More than just an obligation, military service in Israel is a brotherhood and a sisterhood, something taken part in by generation after generation. Parents know their children will one day serve, just as they did. Friends, family, and neighbors are veterans, sharing in the same experiences, the same trials and tribulations. This shared experience means that each Israeli has not only taken part in their nation’s struggle, but understands what each subsequent generation will face.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) welcomes what are known as “lone soldiers,” soldiers without immediate family in the Holy Land. These soldiers are often alone because they have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from a faraway country, leaving behind lives, families, and comfort in order to live in and serve their biblical and historic homeland.
Having left their old lives behind, many lone soldiers lack the natural support system of their comrades. Hailing from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, Europe, the United States -- literally, from around the globe – these young men and women have no family nearby, no childhood homes to return to, no loved ones to care for and comfort them.
That does not detract from their commitment to Israel, of course, but it can make their service more stressful. And that is where The Fellowship and its faithful supporters — Christians and Jews from around the world who love Israel and demonstrate that love in tangible ways — come in. From bringing food and refreshments to soldiers serving on the front lines, to providing basic items such as toiletries and clothing, to organizing holiday celebrations for those who have no one to celebrate with, The Fellowship does what it can to thank these brave men and women for their above-and-beyond commitment.
Take 23-year-old Artum, for instance. Like many of his fellow soldiers, he shows maturity and discipline well beyond his years. This should come as no surprise, given his experiences.
After making aliyah from Ukraine in 2011, Artum lived and studied at an orphanage. When he reached age 18 he entered the army and was stationed on a base for new olim (immigrants). This was hard — on weekends, holidays, and breaks, lone soldiers don’t have the opportunity to unwind or celebrate with family. There is no familiar bed to return to. Birthdays and special occasions come and go with little to no fanfare.
Now a paratrooper sergeant, Artum is stationed with his “family”—the 101st Airborne Battalion—at a remote outpost along the Gaza border. His mission is to protect the children and families of the Israeli communities in close proximity to this terrorist enclave. “You feel you want to give something back to the country, and this is what I feel is the biggest contribution that I can make,” he says.
With a recent escalation in attacks, the IDF’s presence, vigilance, and response are more crucial than ever. Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza have intensified their assault on Israel and her people. Rockets, as well as incendiary kites and balloons designed to trigger fires, are daily, deadly threats.
Artum and his fellow soldiers risk their lives day in and day out to predict, prevent, and intercept these attacks. Their schedule is rigorous and grueling. In such a hostile environment, the threat is constant and their guard is always up. Lives are at stake.
Despite being so far from home and family, Artum has received support from The Fellowship throughout his service. Soldiers usually spend 16 days on active duty and then return home for five days. This short break gives them the chance to buy the small comforts not always available on a military base, things like phone cards, snacks, and extra clothing. This is not always possible for lone soldiers like Artum. But he says the notes and gifts of encouragement, like the gift cards The Fellowship distributes on holidays, have an immediate and lasting impact.
“You’re always saying thank you. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you for caring about us. It’s hard to express in words, the wonderful feeling you have for getting something like this, because it’s food, it’s clothing, and it’s just wonderful,” he says.
This support is also very meaningful to Lionel. For most of his life, Lionel wanted to live in Israel and serve in the IDF. But by the time he was in a position to leave his family and his business in Toronto, Canada, to pursue his dream, he was far older than the average IDF enlistment age of 18.
He almost missed out on the chance. “At first, because of my age, I was rejected, but I fought,” he says. “I made a million phone calls. I wrote letters to important people. It took me about a year, but in the end, I was successful.”
Lionel has honed his awareness while patrolling the streets of one history’s most important cities. It’s also one of the most volatile. Today, he stands with his patrol team on the Mount of Olives and looks over Jerusalem’s Old City with a vigilant eye.
“We’re here in the City of David, also known as the City of Peace, and we know that sometimes it’s not so peaceful,” he says. “But sometimes in order to get to peace there needs to be some fighting, and we need to be resilient in what we do every day. We need to be aware.
“In general, there are people who try to pass here with dangerous weapons. It could be a knife, it could be things that explode, it could be a rock, or Molotov cocktail, things with the intention to inflict terror on the people here. It’s our job to prevent that, to stop the people who are coming here to do those things,” he says. “If there’s a terrorist here it’s our job to handle the situation.”
In addition to Jerusalem’s residents, Lionel is charged with protecting the millions of tourists that visit every year. “You could say we’re like the watchmen of the city,” he says. “Our job is to protect everybody here no matter who they are. We’re here protecting everybody, tourists, the people of the land, everybody.”
Just like Lionel’s job is to protect everybody, The Fellowship feels called upon to help all of Israel’s brave men and women of the IDF. Lionel says the support lone soldiers like himself receive from The Fellowship and its donors is essential. He believes the unity that these friends in the U.S. demonstrate is critical, and he encourages Christians to pray for greater unity, for peace, and for safety.
To Lionel, prayer is the ultimate form of protection and a better weapon than the rifle slung over his shoulder. He also believes that prayer can help Israel find peace so that every race and religion within the city of Jerusalem and beyond can live together in harmony.
To those who pray for him and for all residents of and visitors to Israel, no matter their origin, Lionel says, “I thank them because we do it for them. It’s what gives us our strength, and so I tell them, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”