In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a lone soldier (Hebrew: חַיָּל בּוֹדֵד, Ḥayal Boded) is defined as a serviceman or woman without immediate family in Israel. Lone soldiers serve in regular units and receive various forms of support from the IDF, Israeli government ministries and other organizations. Their exact number fluctuates over time, but is consistently in the thousands; the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported in April 2012, that there were an "estimated 5,000". About 40% of them serve in combat units. They are generally either non-Israelis of Jewish background volunteering under the Mahal or Tzofim Garin Tzabar programmes, or immigrants under the Law of Return, although other possibilities exist (e.g. orphaned natives). According to an IDF spokeswoman, 8,217 personnel born outside Israel enlisted between 2009 and August 2012. The most represented countries of origin were Russia and the United States, with 1,685 and 1,661 recruits respectively.
Lone soldiers receive a higher basic salary from the IDF, as well as financial assistance from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Housing and Construction. They are also given help with housing, and the right to extra time off, including 30 days per year to visit family overseas.
Organizations that help lone soldiers include the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin, The Benji Hillman Foundation which offers housing and guidance for lone soldiers in Ra'anana, The FIDF/NBN Lone Soldiers Program, Jewish Agency and Chayal el Chayal. The Lone Soldier Center, which is open 24 hours a day, assists lone soldiers and their families overseas, provides meals on the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) and Jewish holidays, gives lone soldiers educational and social opportunities, and, where needed, helps them find adoptive families in Israel. The FIDF/NBN provides solutions caring for all immigrants and lone soldiers at all stages of the process: prior to arrival in Israel, prior to recruitment, throughout military service and after release from the IDF (if the released soldier remains in Israel as a civilian). Chayal el Chayal offers an at-home environment for future, present and past lone soldiers. They provide lodging, meals on the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holidays, equipment and care packages, and items related to Judaism such as prayer-books and shawls.
Where a soldier's parents live in Israel, but he or she is not in contact with them, it is possible for him or her to be designated an "irregular lone soldier". In early 2011, The Jerusalem Post reported that about 46% of the approximately 5,000 lone soldiers in the military at that time had family in Israel, but were estranged from them. An IDF adviser to lone soldiers told Arutz Sheva in 2012 that most of these were youths from Haredi religious backgrounds, shunned by their families for joining the army. Irregular lone soldier status can also be given if both of an IDF soldier's parents are working abroad for the Israeli government. If a soldier marries while serving in the IDF, he or she loses lone soldier status. A lone soldier's benefits are also at risk if his or her parents themselves move to Israel.
Notable lone soldiers
Michael Levin, born and raised in Pennsylvania, USA moved to Israel in 2002, and joined the Paratroopers Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. He was killed in action during the Second Lebanon War on 1 August 2006 in the Battle of Ayta ash-Shab. Levin's death received a great deal of attention; over 2,000 people attended his funeral on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Levin had told of an idea for a center for lone soldiers, which would provide them with meals, support and advice. With the support of Tziki Aud, a Jewish Agency employee who had known Levin, a group of former lone soldiers established the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin in 2009.
During the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, three lone soldiers were killed: Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli from the United States, and Jordan Bensemhoun from France. All three were killed in the Battle of Shuja'iyya.
Rights during IDF service
According to the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin, a lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces has the following rights while serving:
|Organization||Form of help||Notes|
|Israel Defense Forces||Increased basic salary
NIS 150 per month for supermarket purchases
|Supermarket money cannot be used to buy alcohol or tobacco|
Supermarket money not spent each month is lost
|Ministry of Immigrant Absorption||NIS 540 per month||For olim hadashim (Jewish immigrants under the Law of Return) only; must be renewed annually|
|Ministry of Housing and Construction||NIS 402 per month||For olim hadashim only; starts a year after arrival in Israel, and must thereafter be renewed annually|
Help with housing
|Israel Defense Forces||Own apartment||A lone soldier can rent his or her own apartment, and receive up to NIS 1,300 towards the rent monthly from the IDF. The original rental contract must be examined by the IDF before financial assistance can start.|
|Beit HaHayal; Soldiers' hostel||These are free of charge and located throughout Israel. It is possible for a lone soldier to live in one from up to three months before he or she enlists.|
|Kibbutz||Kibbutz accommodation||The IDF can help a lone soldier join a kibbutz.|
|Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers (AWIS)||AWIS apartment||A lone soldier can request through the IDF a fully furnished, free-of-charge apartment belonging to the AWIS. Soldiers do not choose their own roommates.|
|Type of leave||How often||Notes|
|Errand days||One day every two months||A lone soldier is entitled to at least twenty four hours every two months to run personal errands, and these cannot be on a Friday, Saturday or Israeli national holiday. A soldier is entitled to one errand day every month while they are in training.|
|Parental visit||Eight days every year||For when a lone soldier's mother or father visits Israel; Fridays and Saturdays are not included; A lone soldier may only take four days if their family visits Israel while they are in training|
|Overseas leave||30 days per year, starting from the eighth month of service||Overseas leave dates are chosen by a lone soldier's commander. Once during a combat soldier's service, the IDF will pay for him or her to visit family abroad.|
|Leave for financial reasons||Special dispensation||Where a lone soldier has financial difficulties, he or she may be granted time off to earn money.|
- Rudoren, Jodi (14 August 2012). "Enlisting From Afar for the Love of Israel". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Mandell, Meredith (11 April 2012). "Evangelical couple sees calling as welcoming 'lone' soldiers for Shabbat dinners". New York: Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- "Lone Soldiers Program". New York: Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- "Garin Tzabar Lone Soldiers Program". Garin Tzabar. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-05. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
- Rights for Lone Soldiers Serving in the IDF (pamphlet). Jerusalem & Tel Aviv: Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin. 2012.
- Katz, Yaakov (23 January 2011). "IDF sets up lone soldiers department". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- Ben Gedalyahu, Tsvi (2 January 2012). "'Lone Soldiers' in IDF Now Include Hareidi Youth". Beit El: Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Gorshkov, Boris N. (20 April 2007). "Lone soldiers' benefits said to keep parents from making aliya". The Jerusalem Post. p. 6. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Moore, Molly (4 August 2006). "U.S. Family Lays 'Lone Soldier' Son to Rest in Israel". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- Berman, Daphna (20 April 2007). "A young Zionist, a lone soldier, a fallen hero". Haaretz. Tel Aviv. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- "Michael Levin, z"l". Jerusalem & Tel Aviv: Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- "About Us". Jerusalem & Tel Aviv: Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- Tzofim Garin Tzabar - Lone Soldiers Program
- The Jewish Agency for Israel
- Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin
- Lone soldiers at the official IDF website
- Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers
- Friends of the Israel Defense Forces
- The FIDF/NBN Lone Soldiers Program
- HESEG Foundation
- Mahal IDF Volunteers
- Lone soldiers - anything but alone
- The Benji Hillman Foundation - HaBayit shel Benji
- Chayal el Chayal - The Lone Soldiers Home Away from Home