If you make Aliyah as a young person the chances are that you will have to serve in the IDF for at least six months. Due to this system, there are always a number of soldiers in the army without any immediate family in Israel, at present there are around 6,300 of them. These are known as ‘Lone Solders’ and it presents the individual with a number of challenges in addition to the regular challenges of army service.
However, the IDF offers a great deal of assistance and extra benefits to lone soldiers to try and make their service as easy as possible. On the most basic level, lone soldiers can be under huge financial strain while serving in the army. Not all soldiers live on base, many of them will travel to the army on a daily basis, and regardless of the nature of an individual’s service, everyone needs a home to go back to.
A lone soldier will receive double the salary of a regular soldier in their unit. The army also offers a fairly substantial rent subsidy and soldiers also receive extra financial help from the Ministry of Immigrate Absorption and the Ministry of Housing and Construction. Furthermore, the army will provide soldiers with basic furniture such as a bed, wardrobe and washing machine.
Another common problem is a simple lack of information about the army, how it works, what is expected and how get the most out of service. In most cases this is made worse due to the language barrier. To help out there is something called the Lone Soldier Centre where a number of trained volunteers are on hand to give advice right from the start of the draft process.
Beyond the practicalities, a real issue is loneliness and homesickness. The vast majority of soldiers will return home at weekends to their friends and families. They have support networks in place and don’t have to worry about bills, food, laundry and so on. A lone soldier will often be returning to an empty apartment, without any food in it and have just a couple of days to do their laundry, pay their bills and relax. In fact, the loneliness can even extend to time on base as quite often immigrant soldiers will be serving with people considerably younger than them, who are at a different stage of life and of course speak a different language. In some ways this is the hardest problem for the army to deal with. To try and help the Lone Soldier Centre organises community events such as film nights, pub nights, Shabbat meals and so on. This way, lone soldiers are able to build up a network of people in a similar position and help each other out.
Despite all of the difficulties outlined above, serving as a lone soldier can be a hugely rewarding experience and there is no doubt that it is worthwhile. While on your gap year you will have the option to do the Marva program. This is just eight weeks of army life and you will have a great deal of support, but it will give you a glimpse into the difficulties that thousands face on a daily basis.