President Reuven Rivlin met with a delegation of 30 mothers of IDF lone soldiers from North America on Thursday. The delegation was organized by Momentum, a government-backed Jewish outreach organization that includes trips to Israel for mothers.
“Your children are not really lone soldiers, because they are with us. My home is always open to them and every holiday Nechama and I always hosted lone soldiers at our table,” said Rivlin. “We say, ‘On your walls, Jerusalem, I have stationed guards.’ Your children are the guards, and not just of Jerusalem.”
“The Lone Soldiers of today are in many ways modern-day heroes of the Jewish people who have chosen to demonstrate their Zionism in a very practical yet selfless way,” Momentum Founder Lori Palatnik said, according to a press release. “But it is critical for us to remember that it is their parents who are joining them in this call of duty and this special visit gives us the chance to salute the role of the mothers in their children’s experience.”
This is not the first time that Rivlin has expressed his support for lone soldiers — immigrants and volunteers from abroad who enlist without a familial support network in the country. In April, Rivlin, alongside IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, hosted around 400 lone soldiers from 35 countries for a festive Seder dinner at a resort village in the coastal city of Hadera. Approximately 6,500 lone soldiers are currently in service, according to the IDF spokesman’s office.
Earlier this year, the IDF denied reports of what some were calling a “worrying trend” of rising suicide rates among the lone soldiers. Three lone soldiers died over the course of the first three months of 2019: two of suicide and one from an apparent drug overdose. That prompted harsh criticism and a wave of newspaper reports on their “lonely life.”
Despite the challenges many of these soldiers face, however, advocates, soldiers and army spokespeople have said that over the last decade, there has been a significant improvement in how the military cares for them.
An army source familiar with the matter said such “suicide epidemic talk is overblown,” citing official statistics showing that the average annual suicide rate for all military personnel hovered around 45 during the mid-1990s.
“Now it’s around 15,” the official said.