|A VISIT WITH LONELY IDF SOLDIERS
by David Parsons, Editor ICEJ News
|As the lecture hall on the Adam army base filled up, there were many curious glances bouncing around the room. Christian
visitors quickly searched the faces of young Israeli soldiers, who peered back in equal wonderment as to why we were there.
The encounter came in late January, when about 50 members of the ICEJ staff and family in Jerusalem toured an IDF training
base near Modi'in and spent time with a number of "lonely" soldiers - recent Jewish immigrants who serve in IDF uniform but
have no close relatives in Israel. It was "Parents' Day" on the base and we had been invited to come be their substitute family
for a few hours.
Eli, acting as a spokesman for the soldiers, explained the basic training they were receiving at Adam base.
"Lots of target practice and guard duty," he chuckled, trying to make light of the serious business that takes place in and around
Earlier, Eli had walked us through a display of standard equipment used by Israeli troops - from field glasses and radios to
camouflage outfits and heavy machine guns. An immigrant from Brooklyn, he seemed confident and at home with his new surroundings. How had he adjusted so easily to life in a new land without his family alongside him? And was he afraid about
standing soon on the front lines of the conflict battering this nation?
As Eli and his fellow soldiers led us from the lecture hall to a large dinning room to share a meal together, these were the sorts of questions on our minds. On the way, we passed by dozens of other Israeli soldiers hugging their real fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. How could we be a replacement for that, even for a day?
When we sat down to eat, Eli explained in private that he is a "hesder" recruit, soldiers who split time between army duty and religious studies at a Yeshiva.
"The Yeshiva environment is like a close knit family to me," he said. "But even if I did not have that, I would never feel alone,
because I have a relationship with G-d."
As our group mingled among the soldiers and conversed with them in Hebrew, English and Russian, other soldiers had different stories to tell.
Nikolai came two years ago from Yalta, on the Black Sea, with his four Jewish friends from high school. They had decided to move here together even without their families. He also had been encouraged to come by an elderly Christian neighbor back
in the Ukraine, who had showed him the promises of the Jewish return to Zion in the Hebrew prophets. Nikolai missed his
family and the green landscape of home, but he at least had his friends here.
Sitting besides Nikolai was a newcomer from Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, who knew that Christian ministries like the ICEJ were helping Jews in this mountainous region come home to Israel. Perhaps we could help his friend make Aliyah.
Amiel came here from West Virginia nearly two years ago and lived on a kibbutz before signing up for the army. Asked why he came to a land so filled with trouble, he insisted, "You have to believe in something -- I came to defend my land."
His father is not so attached to Israel, Amiel related. "He says he will only come visit me when there is complete peace in the Land." That could be a long wait.
Another young soldier was influenced to come by his "Zionist" grandmother -- already living by herself in Jerusalem. "I want
to be an example to Israeli youth," he said. "Some are leaving the country."
Perhaps the most unusual story belonged to Mirk, a Ukranian immigrant with a Jewish mother and African father. In the days
of Soviet Communism, his father left his native Togo to get a free university education in the Ukraine and decided to stay and
start a family.
Still unsure of his Jewish-ness, Mirk came alone to Israel two months before the Intifada ignited in September 2000, and was genuinely curious to learn what the conflict here was all about. Because of his mixed racial background, Mirk was able to sneak into Palestinian towns like Ramallah and Nablus with Arab friends and to see their society first-hand in the days just before the violence erupted.
Months later after witnessing so much terror against innocent civilians, Mirk decided to join the IDF to make it safer for
ordinary people walking the streets. "After my own honest inquiry, I concluded the Palestinians are trying to destroy another country rather than to build their own," he stated.
Though each soldier was unique, there was a common thread running through their stories that left a deep impression on their Christian guests. While serving alongside native Israelis their own age who are drafted into the army, they instead have freely chosen to leave behind family and the safety of distant lands to come defend the Jewish homeland in perilous times.
|ICEJ NEWS SERVICE provides news and comments on Middle East affairs, compiled by journalists at
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Editor David Parsons.