Eliezer Rappoport, Gidon Herschander and Gil Kuttler made aliyah with 60 others from across the country as lone soldiers, immigrants who serve in the Israel Defense Forces without having immediate family in Israel, on Monday.
They are representing Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps people make aliyah by helping to remove the professional, logistical and financial issues that keep some people from making the move to Israel.
“I knew since I was 10 I always wanted to contribute to Israel and being in the army is the most interesting and best way to contribute,” said Kuttler, 18, of Baltimore, who will be a chayal boded, or lone soldier. “Many people in my family died in the Holocaust. Even though I couldn’t help them, I can be part of what they dreamed of, which is being in a safe Jewish State, and I want to keep it safe.”
The three have different backgrounds and motivations for becoming lone soldiers. Kuttler, who has visited Israel several times, has attended Beth Tfiloh since kindergarten and said he appreciates the Jewish upbringing he’s had as Modern Orthodox. However, he doesn’t see the American college system as appealing.
“I haven’t really found a life path I’d be happy with in America, so I know that by moving to Israel, there will be more promise for my success later in life,” Kuttler said.
Many soldiers in the IDF travel after finishing their service; Rappoport, 22, met a lone soldier who had recently finished his service while traveling in Peru. After talking with the soldier for a night he felt compelled to serve in the IDF.
“If I want to say I’m a part of the Jewish people, I have to join [the] army and give my service to Israel,” said Rappoport. “I want to be able to protect my people and culture. There’s always a need for soldiers to protect our heritage and I’m excited to be able to do that.”
While military service is compulsory for Israeli citizens, many of the lone soldiers will spend several months learning Hebrew and preparing for enlistment. Kuttler is joining the army through Garin Tzabar, a program that links diaspora Jews to the Israel Defense Forces. He is living on kibbutz Maaleh Gilboa with other lone soldiers for his first several months in Israel. Herschander, 23, is from Rockville and intends to study at a yeshiva for a year before joining the army.
“I believe that Israel is one of the main centers for Jewish futures. I believe that it ties all Jews together, it connects everyone,” said Herschander. His motivation for making aliyah is to “to be part of history and live in the land that connects all Jews regardless of background.”
What differentiates Herschander and the other lone soldiers on this trip, in particular, is the uncertainty of the Iranian nuclear deal. The deadline for Congress to approve the July 14 deal, which Israel has fiercely opposed, is approaching and President Barack Obama has promised to veto any bill that blocks the deal’s implementation.
“At the end of the day, I believe God is going to help the Jewish homeland and all people worldwide to make it through this conflict,” said Herschander.
Rappoport’s immediate family lives in the United States, but he has relatives living in Israel. Going there, even in difficult times, means protecting them.
“There’s never going to be a time where Israel is safe from forces trying to destroy it. Three or four years from now I wouldn’t be more or less hesitant,” said Rappoport. “I think it makes me a better person to understand it’s a scary time but to go and put my best foot forward and help protect my family in Israel.”
For some, making aliyah is more than joining the military.
“I’ve learned my whole life about the diaspora and the return to Israel. I also have always prayed about ‘next year in Jerusalem,’” said Kuttler. “I am so extremely excited, I feel like I’ve waited my whole life for this, and now it’s finally happening.”
Justin Katz is a reporter at Baltimore Jewish Times. He can be reached at [email protected].