Ari Solomon made Aliyah from Los Angeles in December 2010, and served from 2011 to 2014 as a combat soldier in the elite Sayeret Tzanchanim (Paratroopers Reconnaissance) Unit. After being released from the army, Ari has since completed his master’s degree in government with a specialization in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies from the IDC Herzilya.
As a Conservative Jew growing up in “The Valley” of Los Angeles, my childhood was rather sheltered. I led the fairly stereotypical life—attending public school (even if it was nearly 40% Jewish), participating in Boy Scouts for 13 years, and playing in multiple sport leagues. This secular life was supplemented by attending Hebrew School, going to Synagogue on Fridays, being Bar Mitzvahed, and continuing my Jewish education at Los Angeles Hebrew High School for 8 hours a week. While I might not have been the most diligent Hebrew student, or the most learned when it came to the weekly Torah portion, something began to take root within me during my high school years. I started to actually pay attention in Hebrew class and grew to love the language; I became enthralled with Jewish history—current events, the Holocaust, and Israel.
While attending UC Santa Barbara and studying Political Science with an emphasis on Israel and the Middle East, I became more and more immersed with Jewish life on campus, especially pro-Israel activism. It became a self-feeding cycle; the more I learned, the more I became involved, eventually completing my studies at the Rothberg International School in Jerusalem. That year abroad not only challenged me academically and socially but also proved that my desire to live in Israel could be achieved. With the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, I made Aliyah in December 2010 and quickly immersed myself in Israeli society by participating in a Kibbutz work and Ulpan program at Maagan Michael.
Like many other Lone Soldiers, I sought a meaningful and challenging service. I worked 24/7 to improve my Hebrew, train my body, and prepare my mind for the experiences that awaited me. My enlistment into a special-forces reconnaissance unit within the Paratrooper Brigade was propelled by a deep sense of Zionism, the belief that everyone must do their part to make sure “never again” is not an empty promise, and a search for adventures and challenges previously unimaginable. I’ve undergone 16 months of training in basic, advanced, unit specific reconnaissance and counter-terrorism courses. My feet have walked over every rock, I have crawled through every thorn bush, I have frozen in every rainstorm, sweat in every sweltering day, and slept in every position.
Being able to partake in the protection of Israel, destroy the narrative of the shtetl Jew, and contribute to making this world just a little bit better by being a “light onto nations” is what propelled me forward when my legs seemed to no longer work. Even though there are many difficulties and areas to improve on, Israel is the sole protector of the Jewish people and guarantor of our future. We have learned all too painfully that we cannot rely on others to safeguard the Jewish homeland or come to our rescue; the world was largely silent and paralyzed during WWII and the Holocaust, the Russian Pogroms, European Crusades, or even the 1948 war. And so the answer of why I am standing under this 200-pound stretcher, pushing it up a hill in an exhausting army drill instead of surfing in the Pacific Ocean is because no one else will do this task for me. No nation will risk its own security to ensure Israel’s safety; we must ensure our own survival. That is why I, and many other Lone Soldiers from around the world (South Africa, Italy, Australia, Argentina, etc.) have come to join the IDF and serve in some of the toughest, prestigious and most dangerous units the Israeli army has to offer.
Besides the usual difficulties that any combat soldier faces (the exhaustion, hunger, cold – did I mention the exhaustion?), a Lone Soldier faces the additional challenge of not having parents waiting to pick him up from the bus stop and letting him sleep while a home cooked meal is prepared and a month’s worth of laundry is washed, dried and folded. My family’s support sustains me and I feel their presence despite the 7,605 miles separating us, but it’s hard not having them physically here with me.
Thankfully there are wonderful programs dedicated to helping Lone Soldiers during their military service. I participated in Garin Tzabar, a program that helps with the enlistment process and the absorption into Israel (providing Hebrew Ulpan and educational trips to become more familiar with the land). Garin Tzabar set me up with living quarters on Kibbutz Maagen and an adopted family to support me. Other organizations dedicated to providing assistance to Lone Soldiers such as Nefesh B’Nefesh help to alleviate the natural loneliness and difficulties. Free Shabbat dinners in Tel Aviv, Thanksgiving Feasts, the occasional “Yom Kef”, and holiday packages of warm clothing, snacks, and coffee provided by the generous donors are comforting and inspiring because it reminds me that there are others that appreciate the sacrifice Lone Soldiers are making and want to support us.
At 21 years old, I decided to make Aliyah because I felt compelled to serve- the Jewish people and our homeland. But service doesn’t end when you take off your uniform. And so, I will fight and defend, learn and grow, in this next chapter of my life as a civilian and as a man deeply committed to ensuring that Israel not only continues to survive but also thrives.
For more information about the Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program or ways to get involved, click here: https://lsp.nbn.org.il/