Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Lone Soldier and the Sukkot Festival

Imagine how lonely the Israel High Holiday season must be when a lone soldier (known as a chayal boded in Hebrew) has no family or other relatives to go to when given a few precious days of military leave. Such is often the case for the more than 5,000 IDF soldiers who fall into this category; and after enduring the most important religious holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, may have been left out on one of Israel's most joyous annual festivals, the festival of Sukkot.

The lone soldiers who choose to come by themselves to Israel and serve in the IDF come from many countries and from all types of economic and cultural backgrounds. The more fortunate ones who came from countries like the USA, the UK, France, and other Western countries, usually receive some form of financial assistance from their families back home to help supplement the amount they receive as a monthly military wage of approximately 1,000 Shekels ($250), with a supplement of 200 Shekels ($50) per month which is supposed to cover living and personal accommodation for lone soldiers. This amount is literally all that those from poorer countries like Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, Argentina and other countries have to live on, when on military leave. And with the cost of living rising in Israel at an alarming rate, this amount is insufficient to maintain a tiny apartment; even if shared with other lone soldiers, which is so often the case.

There are a number of independent organizations in Israel who give help to lone soldiers and help them find housing to stay in on weekends and holidays, as well as warm families to visit on Shabbat and other religious holidays. Such is also the case on Sukkot, the eight day festival that began this year on Wednesday, September 22 and lasted until the completion of Simchat Torah, on September 30. One of the most well known of these organizations is the Michael Levine Memorial Center in Jerusalem; which was established in memory of Michael Levin, who came to Israel as a lone soldier from Holland Pennsylvania and was killed in August 2006 during the 34 day war against the Hezbollah in Lebanon. The center is located at 25 Keren Hayesod Street in Jerusalem and provides a warm place to stay to soldiers on leave who do not have families to go to.

It is an old tradition in Judaism to host guests or Ushpizin (Aramaic for "guests") in your sukkah every day during the holiday of Sukkot. This tradition is now especially relevant for lone IDF soldiers who choose to connect their fate with the IDF and the State of Israel; or whom for various reasons had to leave their countries of origin and find refuge in the Jewish Homeland. It can only be hoped that these brave young men and women found a warm and loving place to be during this year's Sukkot festival, and did not have to spend the festival alone on their army bases simply because they had no place to go.

Locations like the Michael Levin Center go a long way towards making these fine young people feel that their contribution to Israel's security is appreciated by the country they chose to live in, and the army they are now a part of. - Headlines