WHAT IS A LONE SOLDIER?
In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a lone soldier (Hebrew: חייל בודד, Ḥayal Boded) is defined as a serviceman or woman without immediate family in Israel. Lone soldiers serve in regular units and combat units as well.
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 Tzabarprogrammes, 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.
THE LONE SOLDIERS
Israel is a small, family-oriented society and army service is often extremely difficult, dangerous and stressful. The IDF tries to allow its soldiers to have home leave as often as possible – usually every other weekend. Israeli parents are known to spoil their soldier children – providing good meals, family gatherings, home-baked goodies, laundry service and all the comforts of home, plus whatever luxuries they can afford – each time they return from the base or the battlefield. But the lone soldiers have no home to go to.