A lone soldier’s experience in Israel

Temima Silver grew up in a predominantly Jewish environment in Ottawa — but when she entered public high school she realized antisemitism wasn’t as far away as she thought. 

That experience was among the reasons that made her decide to enlist as a lone soldier for the Israeli Defence Force, (IDF), where she has been for more than a year.

“The idea to enlist came to mind when an Israeli friend at the time mentioned how he was going to enlist after high school,” said Silver, who is 20 years old. “Initially I was enrolled in university but once COVID hit, it made me take a step back from my life and realize what I wanted my future  to look like.”

Silver realized that if she didn’t enlist then, she never would. 

When she went to Israel, she said it was a “shock” — with little mastery of Hebrew and almost no experience in the country, Silver said there were “a lot of tears.”

“It’s been a lot of crying,” she said. “But I made some of the greatest friends and had experiences that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I will forever be thankful for that.”

National military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18. A “lone soldier” is a soldier in the IDF with no family in Israel to support them. There are more than 7,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF. About 45 per cent of these soldiers are new immigrants, coming from Jewish communities all over the world — like Silver.

Silver is currently a checkpoints combat soldier, which means she stands at West Bank checkpoints, like near Ramallah, and ensures everyone entering the country is permitted to do so. 

Unlike Israeli soldiers who can go home on the weekends, lone soldiers often have no support systems in place.

“I’m normally not a home sick person but the culture shock makes it really hard not to be,” said Silver. “I have received a lot of support since being here.”

Silver previously lived with an Israeli host family, but currently lives with other lone soldiers in a shared apartment.

“Nefesh Bnefesh for Lone Soldiers has been great for financial support and events, but I’ve also received a lot of kindness from random people on Facebook who give away things like beds and couches,” said Silver. Old friends in Israel also helped her set up a bank account and work through the army medical process. 

“Being one of five kids, I check in every once in a while through a large family group chat,” said Silver. “Luckily, I was able to visit Ottawa for a month, after a year of service, but otherwise it’s just been surrounding myself with friends who are also lone soldiers to express our mutual feelings of culture shock and missing home.”

Silver said she is still processing what her experiences as a lone soldier and how they will affect her world view.

“I hope to gain a new perspective on the world and perspective on how tough things in my life may seem versus how tough they really are,” she said. “Also a perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what it means to constantly be surrounded by it.  Overall, I hope to come out with more understanding and to be mentally strong.”

Silver has another six months before completing her term as a soldier, but is considering staying longer. She encourages others to make the leap to enlist as well.

“You’re in for one of the hardest, craziest periods of time in your life,” she said. “But at the end of the day, when you get to look back at the experience you had, you will be amazed at what you were able to do.