Eldad Rafaeli

The Least-Lonely Lone Soldiers

“My status is that of a lone soldier, but the last thing I am is alone.” — Ben Levinger

Ben Levinger is a Hungarian who spent a year of his childhood in Israel. That year made quite an impression: When he finished high school, he determined to return to Israel and join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a lone soldier. On the one hand, he left his Hungarian family behind. On the other, he was welcomed into a new family: that of Yehudit and Ofer Zandany of Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov Meuhad.

Today there are more than 5,000 lone soldiers in the IDF, most of them young men and women whose deep sense of belonging to the Jewish people and the State of Israel have led them to leave their families and their countries and volunteer for military service in Israel.

The Zandanis are one of many Israeli families who welcome these lone soldiers with open arms, a warm heart, and a homecooked meal whenever they’re off their base. Indeed, when their soldiers arrive on the weekends, Yehudit and Ofer set a table that stretches from the kitchen to the far end of the dining room, around which they, their four grown children, and all fourteen of the lone soldiers they’ve “adopted” happily squeeze. It’s a table this special family will be setting for a long time to come: Long after their service is over, these soldiers continue to visit the Zandanis, the first family they had in their new home.