homeward bound

NBN takes future soldiers to Israel

Ambassador Freedman’s daughter also on flight


Dozens of future IDF soldiers from North America immigrated to Israel this week, arriving on an El Al Airlines flight chartered by the Nefesh B’Nefesh agency, hoping to do their part in supporting the Jewish state by joining the Israeli military.

The aliyah flight touched down at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport shortly after sunrise Tuesday. The new immigrants were greeted with a special ceremony attended by Israeli government officials as well as representatives from The Jewish Agency for Israel, JNF-USA, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and the Tzofim Garin Tzabar lone soldiers program, among others.

Among the 233 new immigrants aboard this week’s flight, 70 — more than half of them women — will join the IDF after receiving their Israeli citizenship. The future IDF members will be known as “lone soldiers,” the term used for those serving in the Israeli army without family members living in Israel. 

Also among the new immigrants is Talia Friedman, the 23-year-old daughter of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. She is a nurse and one of many medical professionals making aliyah.

One-thousand lone soldiers from the U.S. and 3,000 from around the world currently serve in the IDF.

“These brave young men and women who chose to leave the comfort of their homes, and join the thousands of soldiers already serving in the army, are a tremendous source of pride for us and for the people of Israel,” said Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder and Executive Director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass. 

Sophie Stillman of Hopkins, Minn., was one of the 36 female future soldiers aboard the aliyah flight. She said the process that led her to seek to join the IDF began two years ago, when she visited Israel it “started to feel like home.” Friends in the IDF told her the Jewish state is “a home to me and all other Jews.” 

“I realized that if they felt it was my home, and I felt it was my home, then shouldn’t it be my duty to protect it too?” she recalled, adding, “Why was it only their responsibility?”

The final catalyst for joining the IDF, Stillman said, occurred after she returned to Israel in January 2016 to study for a semester abroad in Jerusalem. Soon after Stillman began her studies, Israeli Border Police officer Hadar Cohen, 19, was killed in a Palestinian terror attack at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.

“When I learned of the news that afternoon, the first emotion I felt was guilt. Israel is my home, but I’m sitting safe in Israel getting to travel the country, going to the beach, living a great life, while people my age, like Hadar Cohen, are protecting me and everyone else. … I decided to take this guilt and turn it into something productive.”

Another future lone soldier aboard this week’s flight, 18-year-old Sarah Griffith of New Rochelle, said defending Israel is important since it is “the only country in the world” where “Jews will always be welcome.” 

“Zionism,” said Griffith, “means supporting Israel and the right for a Jewish state in Israel to exist.”