by Herb Keinon
photographs by Ricki Rosen
developed by Lisa Hackel
Published by Devora Publishing
Hardcover, 156 pages (includes 45 color photos)
ISBN 13: 978-965-524-116-7
They pick up and leave family, friends, home, cars, first-tier universities, and often top jobs for a land in which, in most cases, they don't have relatives, and are unfamiliar with the language, culture, food, and mentality. Once there, they choose one of the harshest, most difficult frameworks possible in which to immerse themselves: the army. They are Israel's lone soldiers. ''Lone Soldiers: Israel's Defenders from Around the World'' tells a tale, engagingly written by Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon, with accompanying pictures by noted photographer Ricki Rosen. This book tells the personal stories of fourteen of these volunteer lone soldiers - including one, Michael Levin, who fell in the Second Lebanon War - and of an ''old school'' kibbutznik, Lt.-Col. (res.) Tzvika Levy, known as the ''father of the lone soldiers,'' whose life mission is to take them under his wing and make their landing in Israel and the IDF as painless as possible. Their stories are living proof of Israel's enduring strength and Zionism's vibrant appeal.
About the Author:
Herb Keinon is a veteran reporter for The Jerusalem Post. Keinon has lived in Israel since 1981, spending most of those years writing on a wide array of topics for the newspaper. For the last nine years he has been the Post's diplomatic correspondent. Originally from Denver, Keinon lives with his wife and four children in Ma'ale Adumim.
About the Photographer:
Ricki Rosen has worked as a photojournalist for over twenty-five years, and her photographs have been published in such major publications as Time Magazine, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, People, Paris Match, and Le Figaro. She recently published a photographic book, Transformations - From Ethiopia to Israel, featuring portraits of Ethiopian Jews during the 1991 Operation Solomon rescue mission and then the same people transformed after fifteen tears in Israel. Rosen lives in Jerusalem with her husband and two children.
Praise for Lone Soldiers:
"At a time when criticism of Israel, from within and from without, seems commonplace, it is refreshing and inspiring to read Herb Keinon's ''Lone Soldiers: Israel's Defenders from Around the World,'' a story about so much that is good and unique about Israel.... This book reminds us that the IDF is the institution that brings Israelis together, that it is the glue that keeps an ideologically diverse society whole, and is the vehicle to bring outsiders, whether foreigners or natives, to becoming full Israelis. Lone Soldiers is one more reason to be thankful for Israel, thankful for the IDF, and thankful for people like Tzvika Levy who make sure that the lone soldier is not alone."
-Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
"This special book, written by Herb Keinon, tells the wonderful tale of fourteen lone soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces and the heart-warming story of a unique man, Tzvika Levy,... who is known as the ''father of the lone soldiers.''... The importance and contribution of the lone soldiers to the State of Israel and the IDF is immeasurable.... The personal example shown by the lone soldiers, who come from afar and volunteer to serve of their own free will out of pure Zionist ideas, is an educational value of the first degree.... Herb Keinon's book is a testimony to the love of Israel and to the unity and cooperation between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora."
-Ehud Barak, Defense Minister and former Prime Minister in the foreword to Lone Soldiers: Israel's Defenders from Around the World
"This book that tells the story of the Lone Soldiers, and relates the personal story of Tzvika Levy, is a source of inspiration for anyone with a beating Zionist heart."
-Moshe Ya'alon, Strategic Afairs Minister and former IDF Chief of General Staff
"The Israeli Defense Force is the heart and soul of Israeli life. It is in the core of our values and the foundation of our culture.... The lone soldiers are unique individuals who, despite their unusual personal status, give and contribute to the IDF wholeheartedly. The IDF and the State of Israel need to show their gratitude for these wonderful youngsters.... Let this book be a tribute to the vast contribution of the lone soldiers to the Israeli army and our nation."
-Shaul Mofaz, former IDF Chief of General Staff and former Defense Minister
This appealing volume presents the stories of 14 individuals who chose to join the IDF, leaving families in the US, Canada, England, Morocco, Russia, Ethiopia, Australia, Belgium, Argentina and the Dominican Republic.
Jerusalem Post journalist Herb Keinon steers gently through the interviews, allowing the young soldiers' voices to be fully heard. Each story is engaging, enhanced by Jerusalem photographer Ricki Rosen's camera work.
Keinon's portraits reveal a wide array of motivations to join the Israeli army, which one can assume are shared by the approximately 4,000 other lone soldiers from foreign countries.
Michael Botham came to Israel from London in 2006 simply because the air fare was cheap. After 10 months of odd jobs, such as tossing tomato slices onto sandwiches on a kibbutz assembly line, he missed England enough to go back - only to find he missed Israel more. He returned in 2007 and now is in the Golani Brigade.
At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Levin, one of 119 soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War. Piecing together Levin's story from interviews with his father, Mark, and with a teacher at the Israeli high school program Levin attended in 2001, Keinon portrays the young man's fierce determination to fight for Israel.
Lacking a draft notice, Levin showed up at the Tel Aviv induction center and discovered he could not get through the front door without one. So he climbed in through a side window, reportedly prompting an impressed officer to comment, "You know how many people I deal with who do everything to get out of here? You are the first person I've ever dealt with who broke in to get into the army." Levin's paperwork was soon arranged.
Several interviewees are the children of Israeli expatriates who were not keen on their kids' decision to enlist.
Yaniv, a counterterrorism specialist born in Israel and reared in Toronto, lived intermittently in Israel during his 20s. But in part because of his father's "over my dead body" objection, it wasn't until 30 that he took the step of coming back for good and lending his expertise to a special forces unit.
Anat Lev, on the other hand, came to the land of her father's birth with her parents' blessing. Growing up in Santo Domingo, she had never met her close Israeli relatives. Her dad encouraged her to try Israel after high school.
"I wasn't sure what I would do there, but my father said it was a developed country with good study opportunities," relates Lev, who made aliya when she arrived. The draft notice she received 10 months later took her by surprise, as did combat service that was not at all the G.I. Jane experience she had anticipated.
"I really didn't know anything," Lev relates. "I saw movies, and that's what I thought it would be like."
All of those interviewed stuck it out and seem to harbor no regrets. Still, integration problems such as language and cultural difficulties, on top of parental pressure, send a little less than half of lone soldiers packing for their native countries after discharge.
"I always say that if I could get my family to live here, it would solve all my problems," Australian Ben Froumine tells Keinon, "but I don't know if that is going to happen." For now, he plans on returning to Melbourne when his army stint is over.
Lt.-Col. (res.) Tzvika Levy, coordinator of the Kibbutz Movement's Lone Soldier Program since 1995, endeavors to ease the transition for his 750 official charges - and hundreds more not within the kibbutz framework. Keinon opens the book with a profile of Levy, "a veritable Wailing Wall for any lone soldier who needs help or intervention," as well as for their parents abroad.
Keinon reports that 35 percent of lone soldiers are female, one-third are religious, and 60% serve in combat units. This last statistic is noteworthy, given that at least 80% of soldiers typically fill noncombat jobnik positions.
Aiala Jinkis of Argentina pined to be an infantry instructor, but instead is a company clerk planning cultural programs and sorting mail for a 200-man infantry unit.
"I am with soldiers all the time," she tells Keinon. "I am part of their unit, even though I don't carry a gun or go with them on their operations."
Whether or not they carry a rifle or end up staying in Israel forever, each soldier's story testifies to the strength of Zionism. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak notes in his introduction, lone soldiers "have proven to themselves and us that Zionism is not an archaic concept, but rather a living and beating ideal that calls - as in the past - to youth to rally around."
Herb Keinon, a Denver native who made aliyah in 1981 and has since written for the Jerusalem Post, spent two years conducting research for his new book ďLone Soldiers: Israelís Defenders from Around the World,Ē which profiles 14 lone soldiers from around the world.
Keinon spoke Nov. 5 at Congregation Emek Beracha in Palo Alto as part of a two-week North American speaking tour.
He spoke to j. reporter Stacey Palevsky by phone from his hotel in Phoenix.
Q. Did you serve in the army?
A. Yes, I did serve in the IDF, but in a different framework. I came to Israel when I was 26 and married. So I did four months of training and became a combat medic. Then I did 15 years in the reserves.
Q. How did working on this book affect how you think about life in Israel?
A. It gives you a degree of hope and pride in the country and resilience of the country. What you read about a lot are the kids who donít go into the army, who say they canít serve in the territories ó that grabs a lot of headlines. Then you see stories like this. I think itís an important counterbalance.
Q. Did any of the soldiers you profiled consider serving in their home countryís military?
A. One American kid gave it a thought, but figured he might as well serve in a Jewish army. A kid from Belgium also considered serving in the Belgian army for a minute, but if he was going to do it, he thought he might as well do it for Israel. Itís interesting because he was living in Belgium but still felt more of a connection to Israel. It comes down to your service and what you can contribute, which is more in Israel than perhaps other armies. Israel is a small army, and you see your impact, you feel your impact.
Q. After people finish reading your book, what do you want them to think about in the days following?
A. Just that the phenomena exists. Iím not sure itís something thatís widely recognized. You have kids from all over world who get up, who leave mostly a very comfortable environment, who donít go on the regular track of college and instead go into a very difficult situation Ö That indicates the degree to which Zionism still has a pull for a lot of people.
Q. Will this book be published in Hebrew?
A. Yes, the idea or hope is that the army will translate it and publish it and distribute it to lone soldiers.
Q. What do you think Israelis will think about the stories in this book?
A. For Israelis, I think itís also important to see this type of phenomena as well. Theyíre bombarded by stories of people who donít want to go to into the army and how diaspora Jewry is not interested anymore. This shows another side Ö I found these stories inspirational and uplifting. I would hope Israelis think the same, and see that weíve got something going on here.
J Weekly (SF)