'We are shocked and hurting'

Family searching for answers after US-born IDF lone soldier dies by suicide

Michaela ‘Mika’ Levit, 19, was found dead outside her base last week, having left a note to her family describing recent ‘hardships,’ her cousin says

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

IDF soldier Michaela Levit, 19, whose body was found on her army base in central Israel on May 15, 2019, in a photograph posted to her social media on October 14, 2018. (Instagram)
IDF soldier Michaela Levit, 19, whose body was found on her army base in central Israel on May 15, 2019, in a photograph posted to her social media on October 14, 2018. (Instagram)

After US-born lone soldier Michaela Levit died by suicide outside her base in central Israel last week, her family started looking for answers, turning to her friends and comrades for an explanation of what led the 19-year-old woman to end her own life.

Levit, who served in the mixed-gender Caracal Battalion, was found dead on her base last Wednesday. Her body was flown back for burial in North Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday afternoon.

On Saturday night, Shlomit Levy Tsamir, an Israeli relative of Levit, took to Facebook on behalf of the family in an effort to better understand what had happened.

“We are shocked and hurting from the passing of Mika Levit — may her memory be blessed — who ended her life a few days ago, tragically and shockingly, outside the base where she served,” Tsamir wrote in Hebrew.

“We believe that Mika’s friends can shed light on what happened to her recently,” she said.

Tsamir told The Times of Israel that her post was written in coordination with Levit’s parents, who live in Miami. As of Sunday evening, her post had been shared over 1,400 times, including by Levit’s father, Tal.

Levit moved to Israel in 2017, joining the Israel Defense Forces that November through the Garin Tzabar program, which assists young men and women who come to the Jewish state without their parents to join the military. She served in Caracal, going through the army’s team leader training course, known in Hebrew as Course Makim.

אנחנו המומים וכואבים את לכתה של מיקה לויט ז"ל, ששמה קץ לחייה לפני ימים אחדים באופן טרגי ומפתיע מחוץ לבסיס בו…

Posted by Shlomit Levy Tsamir on Saturday, May 18, 2019

Unlike in other instances, where suicide has been suspected but not definitively proven, in Levit’s case, the evidence indicates that she took her own life, though a full investigation by the Israel Defense Forces is ongoing, according to Tsamir.

“That’s at least the assessment that was presented to her parents,” she said, over the phone.

Alex Sasaki (Courtesy)

According to Tsamir, Levit left a note for her family, saying she had been “dealing with hardships,” without specifying.

“I want to hear from friends that served with her, people who were with her in Makim, people who lived with her in her barracks,” she said, including her phone number in the post: +972-54-675-5576.

Tsamir said Levit had been in regular communication with her extended family in Israel and that the “hardships” mentioned in her note appeared to have come up in recent months.

“We don’t know if she was fighting with her commanders, if something happened, or if it was unrelated to the army — some personal things that we’ll never know,” she said.

“Right now, it’s just a mystery,” Tsamir added.

The military designates troops whose parents do not live in Israel or who are not supported financially by their parents as “lone soldiers,” entitling them to a higher salary and other benefits. In recent months, following a number of apparent suicides, the IDF has faced growing scrutiny of its treatment of these soldiers, with some immigrant groups and activists accusing the military of failing to properly care for them.

In some cases, these lone soldiers were later found to have suffered from mental health issues prior to joining the military, but did not disclose this information to the military, nor did the IDF request copies of their medical records upon enlistment.

According to Tsamir, this was not the case with Levit, whom she said had no history of mental illness.

“She didn’t come with a psychiatric history,” Tsamir said.

The Garin Tzabar program, which is run through the Israeli Scouts Movement, said in a statement that it could not comment on Levit’s case as there is an active Military Police investigation into her death, but expressed condolences to her family.

“The Scouts Movement’s Garin Tzabar program will continue to support the other members of [Levit’s] group, who are spread throughout the country,” according to the statement.

A spokesperson for the group said they were in contact with Levit’s parents, who participated by video call in a memorial ceremony in Israel in her honor last Friday before the funeral in the US.

In a statement, the IDF said the Military Police investigation was ongoing and that its findings would be presented to the proper authorities once it is completed.

According to Tsamir, the family was turning to Levit’s friends as it was not convinced this probe would shed light on her mindset and personal situation.

“We don’t know to what extent the IDF investigation will give us this information,” she said.

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