By Stacey Dresner
Growing up in Newton, Mass., Noah* and his family visited Israel on a regular basis.
“We were a pretty Zionistic family, so we would go once or maybe twice a year, depending on the year,” he said. “Israel was always a very big thing in my life.”
Noah attended Jewish day school and went to the religious Zionist camp Moshava Indian Orchard in Pennsylvania. When he graduated from Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass. in 2016, he, like many of his classmates went to Israel for a gap year.
“I come from a background where everyone would graduate from high school and go to Israel for a year, and then go back home to college,” Noah explained.
But after an inspiring year participating in Mechinat Otzem – a pre-military program in the south of Israel — Noah decided to stay. He made aliyah in 2017 and began serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Golani Brigade.
On Sept. 13, the experiences of Noah and other Lone Soldiers in the IDF were highlighted during the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FID) National Gala, held virtually for the very first time.
The gala, themed “A Night of Heroes,” saluted IDF soldiers and veterans, and raised more than $15 million to support wellbeing and educational programs for IDF soldiers, families of fallen soldiers and wounded veterans.
“FIDF is in daily communication with the IDF to follow their directives and understand the soldiers’ on-going needs,” said FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir. “Even during…difficult times, we continue to fulfill the needs of our sons and daughters in uniform.”
Noah, who was discharged from the IDF as a Staff Sergeant in June, and next year will begin serving in the reserves, says that several things inspired him to make aliya and serve in the IDF.
“First of all, my older brother was in the [IDF]. He was drafted in 2013. And that was a very big thing for me that my older brother was in Israel and was in the army,” Noah explained. His brother Jacob now lives in Haifa and studies at the Technion.
Noah’s year of study in Israel after high school also played a big role. He was one of seven Americans and 199 Israelis participating in Mechinat Otzem, a program that mostly Israelis go through between high school and the army.
“I was always like, Israel is a great place to visit, but I’m never going to live here,” he said. “But I got off the plane, and I became immersed in the culture and I fell in love with the place.”
Noah had attended Maimonides with Ezra Schwartz, the 18-year-old American yeshiva student who was killed in a terrorist attack in the West Bank on Nov. 19, 2015.
Ezra, who was spending a gap year studying at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh, had gone with five classmates to the Etzion bloc, south of Jerusalem, to beautify a nature reserve dedicated to the three Jewish teens kidnapped and killed by terrorists the year before. A terrorist, reportedly a Palestinian, opened fire on them, killing Schwartz and wounding his classmates.
“Ezra was a year above me in high school, we didn’t have any class together, but we played baseball together for three years,” Noah said. “We weren’t in the same social circle, but some of his best friends were my very good friends. When he was killed, it was my first experience with the death of a peer. Did it affect my choice to draft? Not really, I already wanted to; it just kind of reaffirmed my mindset.”
During his two years and eight months of IDF services, Noah served in the Special Forces unit attached to the Golani Brigade.
After eight months of training, he and his unit spent eight months of deployment throughout Judea and Samaria.
One of the most harrowing experiences Noah had was losing a fellow soldier in an explosion during an arrest his unit made in a town near Jenin this past May.
“We immediately reacted to the situation, doing what we are trained to do,” he said. “We did a search and that started a two-week long period of arrests, going to see the family, arrests, going to the family. We spent that time not sleeping, not eating, barely functioning, just on automatic…We spent two weeks from the incident until the guy was found.”
While Noah was able to call his parents in the U.S. to share his grief, as a Lone Soldier he depended a lot on the members of his unit.
“They are my best friends. These guys are going to be my best friends for the rest of my life. At the end of the day, I’ve seen these guys at their best and at their worst — in the rain and in the cold and when you haven’t showered, when you are hungry and when you are tired, and when you have no energy for anybody, they love you from the start to the end.”
After the Covid-19 pandemic began, Noah was among thousands of IDF soldiers ordered to quarantine on base, not just to protect the soldiers from the virus, but also to maintain military preparedness.
“It didn’t really affect us, except that we couldn’t leave base,” Noah said. “We did 41 days on base when usually you will go home for the weekend.”
It was during that time that the FIDF stepped in to address the needs of the soldiers, distributing tens of thousands of hygiene kits to combat soldiers and units adopted by FIDF. FIDF will also provided gym kits, which consist of various weights and equipment; additional snack and sweet packages; and Sony PlayStations.
“They brought a washer and dryer to the base and they brought us shampoo, shavers, and toothpaste. They play behind the scenes. Only the Americans know who the FIDF is not the Israelis. They just know that someone is looking out for them,” Noah said.
And while they look out for all IDF soldiers, FIDF takes special care of lone soldiers.
“They take Lone Soldiers on an outing each year to a water park; that was amazing. And they paid for one of my flights home,” Noah said. “Lone Soldiers are allowed to go home one month a year to visit family. And the FIDF pays for one of those flights.”
After his discharge from the IDF in June Noah took some time off, and now is looking for a job in his new home.
“I’m here for the long haul,” he said. “America is a great place to visit.”
*Last name omitted for soldier’s protection.
Main Photo: From left to right, Noah’s sister Rachel; father Robert; Staff Sgt. (Res.) Noah; and Noah’s younger brother Adam.