The vision that comes to mind when one thinks of a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is usually bold and heroic. Young men and women bravely defending their homeland and the future of the Jewish people. Few people think about how support from family and friends contributes to their ultimate success. For most soldiers, serving in the IDF is inevitable, something their parents and maybe even their grandparents did before them. These young Israelis serve with their friends, in the language of their people, and return to the comforts of their childhood homes when given time off. But that isn’t the story for everyone.
The tales of IDF soldiers have traveled the world. Jewish kids of all denominations grow up with the stories, and the history, and the belief that defending the Jewish Homeland is a responsibility to be taken by all of us. They know that by serving in the IDF they will be part of something bigger than themselves and, in return, they will be active participants in the history of the Jewish people. This ideology and a desire to be a part of something larger than themselves, is enough for many of these young men and women to board planes, leave the comforts of their families and homes, and volunteer to do their part.
But then reality hits. Far from home with limited time off, soldiers without close family, Lone Soldiers, must still fend for themselves in the civilian world – but on an army schedule. For most soldiers this means a maximum of two weekends off per month; but with long travel from base, general fatigue from training and exercises, and most businesses closed on Shabbat, it is a struggle to take care of the mundane business of being a person.
The Nefesh B’Nefesh and Friends of the IDF (FIDF) Lone Soldiers Program (LSP) recognized the struggle these volunteers were enduring and decided to do something about it; thus was born Yom Siddurim! Yom Siddurim translates to Errands Day, and is the term given to the days allocated to Lone Soldiers to leave base and take care of their personal business. Be it going to the bank, getting new glasses, or working through the process of converting their driver’s licenses, there is no end to the list of errands that can be done, and the IDF tries to accommodate the needs of its soldiers as best as it can. But the bureaucracy can be prohibitive, the travel between offices can be long, and ultimately for many young people, just getting their laundry clean before returning to base can be a challenge.
The 3rd annual Yom Siddurim, which took place this month, was the grandest effort yet to ease the burden felt by the Lone Soldiers in the IDF. 1500 Lone Soldiers from over 50 countries, including: the USA, Canada, UK, Russia, France, Brazil, Mexico, Ethiopia, India, were given simultaneous leave by the army in order to attend this remarkable event. For one day, the Beit Hachayal in Tel Aviv played home to representatives from forty government agencies, including the Ministry of the Interior, the Israeli Tax Authority, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption. 75 Nefesh B’Nefesh staff members were on hand to assist the soldiers and point them in the right direction as they applied for discounts on their utility bills, requested Israeli passports, consulted experts about higher education options upon release, and for one Lone Soldier, finalized their Aliyah and became an Israeli citizen!
The soldiers were noticeably appreciative and moved by the effort and attention to detail that was put into the Yom Siddurim, one even stopping an NBN staffer to say how awestruck they were. They were given a chance to cross huge tasks off their never-ending lists, all while enjoying free food and drinks and catching up with friends. A spacious fun room was set up to let the Lone Soldiers unwind as they played foosball, basketball, air hockey, ping pong, and video games.
The representatives of the IDF who were on-hand were enthusiastic about the event and the service being provided to the Lone Soldiers. It was truly a joint effort between wonderful partners, including The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA, and was a real show of love and support for these remarkable soldiers who make the choice on a daily basis to leave the comforts of home in order to protect their greater family.