Each year on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, our Greater Philadelphia communities come together, along with our global Jewish community, to commemorate Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Honoring each and every life sacrificed for the establishment and safeguarding of Israel, we offer special recognition to the so-called “lone soldiers” who serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) without family nearby to support them. Around 6,000 lone soldiers currently guard Israel’s borders, about 45% of whom hail from international communities, accepting the additional burden of serving far from home. This means forgoing amenities large and small: a parent’s washing machine, care packages, a table to gather around for the holidays and home-cooked Shabbat dinners. These highly motivated soldiers, who arrive not just to defend Israel but to dedicate themselves to the country, and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice.

Perhaps the most famous fallen lone soldier was our local hero, Staff Sgt. Michael Levin. Born in Bucks County, Michael was undaunted by the challenges of immigrating to Israel on his own. Through unwavering dedication, he not only made aliyah but quickly ascended into the ranks of the IDF’s elite 890th Paratrooper Battalion. In July 2006, after three years of soldiering, Michael was on leave to visit his family in the U.S. when he heard his unit had been deployed to Lebanon following the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Rather than sit safely on the sidelines while his unit protected Israel, he cut short his Philadelphia visit to return to battle. Michael was tragically killed in the Hezbollah stronghold of Ayta al Shab.

Though many lone soldiers have given their lives throughout Israel’s history, Michael was the only American lost during the Second Lebanon War. When Michael’s parents arrived at Mount Herzl for his funeral, they were amazed to find thousands of mourners waiting to honor their fallen son. Many knew and loved Michael; others were overcome by the story of the young Philadelphian who devoted his life to the State of Israel. At the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, that tradition continues: Each of our travel opportunities to Israel pays a visit to Michael’s gravesite. On Yom HaZikaron, and every day, we carry Michael in our hearts.

Join the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and hundreds from our communities at Congregation Adath Jeshrun on Tuesday, May 7th, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. In a traditional Israeli-style ceremony with siren, prayers and song, we will commemorate Israel’s fallen soldiers, as well as civilian victims of terrorism. For more information click here.