Our story begins when Souzan Blumberg decided to write a Hanukkah greeting letter to a Lone Soldier in the fall of 2018. Although she was very busy as a volunteer for the Assistance League, a deputy voter registrar for Maricopa County and on the screening committee for the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, Souzan was determined to complete this task.

Souzan, a lifelong teacher and volunteer, wanted to get it right. She knew that lone soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces are typically far away from their families, feel stressed by the intense demands of serving in the IDF and are experiencing a different culture with a new language to learn.

Souzan thought long and hard about the most meaningful way to approach this stranger. She and her husband were in a similar situation when he was stationed in Guam during the Vietnam war and she remembers being lonely, missing her family, especially at Jewish holiday times, and was living in a different culture.

Souzan’s middle daughter is a career pilot in the US Air Force. Becoming a Lt Colonel and instructor at the Air Force Academy in Colorado involved a long history of challenges and obstacles to overcome. Another connection!

In addition to a Hanukkah greeting, Souzan wrote that she felt a special connection to the anonymous lone soldier she was writing because of their mutual life experiences. She also felt uniquely empathetic, sensitive and appreciative of the lone soldier challenges in Israel and the IDF.  On the chance that the lone soldier was moved to respond, Souzan ended with her name and e-mail address.

Lilly,  a 19-year-old lone soldier from New York, responded immediately.

Lilly, a lone soldier in the IDF.

“Thank you so much. It meant so much to me to hear your story and having someone I can relate to,” she wrote to Souzan. Lilly serves in a Search and Rescue Unit (Palchatz) in the IDF.  Their correspondence has continued regularly since then. The impact of the support Souzan has provided was expressed in a response from Lily to receiving a Valentine Card: “I feel loved and appreciated.”

The Lone Soldier Project of the East Valley JCC is committed to showing appreciation for the lone soldiers serving in the IDF by providing support to the lone soldier centers that assist them. From now until May 16, which is the EVJCC’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, the Lone Soldier Project’s Lone Soldier Campaign is raising funds to help provide Shabbat and holiday meals for soldiers at lone soldier centers in Israel, as well as provide materials for volunteers to knit hats to help keep the lone soldiers warm on their evening shifts.

— Michael Cohen, MD, Lone Soldier Project coordinator