The Lone Soldier Project: How It All Began
By Ricki Meyer
The Lone Soldier Project™ founded by Ricki Meyer strives to disseminate information about and spread awareness of Lone Soldiers to communities throughout the United States and around the world. Lone Soldiers serve in the army without the comfort of their families and communities with them on the ground in Israel. With your help, we can provide Lone Soldiers with the items they need most while protecting the State of Israel.
The idea of a Lone Soldier, of someone voluntarily joining another country's army, was foreign to me until a couple of years ago. I saw Michael Levin's memorial on Har Herzl during my first visit to Israel in January 2010, which we now honor again for the 6th anniversary, and couldn't quite fathom the courage Michael and so many others have shown to leave the safety of their own homes to protect Israel. Over time I met a few former Lone Soldiers and the more I learned, the more admiration I developed for the sacrifices they made and dedication they had for defending Israel.
A conversation with Lone Soldiers over Shabbat lunch in Jerusalem in June 2011 inspired me to turn that admiration into action. We asked the Soldiers about their experiences and what it was like to serve in the Israel Defense Forces without having the physical support of their parents with them in Israel. Many of the Soldiers had similar responses, saying their friends became their family. One soldier said he really noticed that absence of his parents on Friday afternoons when the army delivered packages. His Israeli peers would receive items such as flashlights, underwear, socks, cookies - items they all really needed while on the frontlines - but he rarely did because his family was so far away and the army experience wasn't as much of a norm for his parents as it was for Israeli parents.
The conversation helped me realize that we could do something about this gap, something that would really make a difference in the lives of Lone Soldiers from all over the world who are defending the country that is important to us all. In addition, taking action might help others understand the importance of the Lone Soldiers and their brave sacrifices for the sake of the Jewish people everywhere.
Upon returning to the States, two friends and I wanted to come up with a way to send care packages to Lone Soldiers. We spoke with various community members and former Lone Soldiers to share our idea and ask for their advice. We were so happy to learn about the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin in Jerusalem, which provides a support system for Lone Soldiers, in addition to mentors, Shabbat and holiday meals, courses, and supplies. After a few months of calls, e-mails, and plans, we successfully sent 60 helmet flashlights and a couple hundred packets of Gatorade powder to the soldiers. The items were extremely well-received and, as we learned through later conversations, made a significant impact on the Soldiers.
After sending the first shipment and comparing the costs and benefits, we realized this method would not lead to a sustainable effort to provide continuous support to Lone Soldiers. In order for the work to continue, we had to share with the larger community who Lone Soldiers are, what they do, and why they do it.
Based on the proposed mission and goals, I was accepted to the PresenTense Fellowship to learn the skills that would help me develop this growing idea into a sustainable product. Through the PresenTense seminars and discussions, particularly those with my mentors, I expanded the scope of the project beyond collecting and sending packages to incorporate an educational component that had the potential to expand our reach into the Jewish communities. By gathering and sharing information, and introducing people and ideas, I could work to ensure that people were not only giving, but they were also receiving - gaining an understanding of why Lone Soldiers choose to defend Israel and how meaningful they are to communities within and outside of Israel.
While the Lone Soldier Project was essentially "born" through PresenTense, it became clear to me that our success would be compounded by working with organizations that that already support populations of need within Israel, awareness of and support for Lone Soldiers can be built into infrastructures that are in place.
After hearing about The Israel Forever Foundation's work to benefit Lone Soldiers, as well as their partnership with the Lone Soldier Center that aligned with my own, it became evident that collaboration was a logical next step. We were pleased and excited to announce our new partnership in June 2012 with our Israeli wine-tasting kick-off event in Washington, D.C. hosted with the Embassy of Israel. With over 125 people in attendance and a program that featured an Embassy official and former Lone Soldier Lazar Berman as speakers, we successfully raised over $3200 for the Lone Soldier Center. To read more about this event and to see the fabulous photos, click here.
Moving forward, The Lone Soldier Project of The Israel Forever Foundation is developing educational curricula for schools, synagogues, community organizations, campuses and the Virtual Citizen of Israel community to share the stories of Lone Soldiers and develop innovative ways of how we can give them our support. We hope to continue hosting events to share Lone Soldiers' personal stories and raise funds that go directly to the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin in Jerusalem. Your contributions make a difference and allow us to expand the reach of our important efforts!
As the Lone Soldier Project continues to grow and impact people both locally and abroad, I see more and more individuals touched by the stories of the soldiers and inspired to connect to Israel in a different way.
We are here to assist with bringing Lone Soldiers to your community, letter writing campaigns, and program development to increase the understanding and support Lone Soldiers need from people in the Diaspora who share their personal connection and commitment to our one and only Jewish State.