Sunday, June 8, 2014

Yom Haatzmaut at the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center

Leah Thomas is a current 5-month participant on the Coexistence Track. She spends her time interning at the Lone Soldier Center and volunteering in Jaffa. On Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, Leah and other participants of Tikkun Olam organized a Friday night dinner at the Lone Soldier Center. 

My name is Leah Thomas and I am a recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. This time last year I was brainstorming what I would do after undergrad and I almost immediately realized that I wanted to travel and volunteer (more specifically I wanted to do some type of “Jewish volunteering”). After checking out my options and stumbling upon the Masa programs browser, I found Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa- a Jewish social justice program that combines seminar classes and hands on opportunities to volunteer and intern with in-need populations and non-profit organizations in South Tel Aviv for 5 or 10 months.

And here I am!...writing about one of the most wonderful experiences I have had yet, which was helping organize a Yom Ha’atzmaut Shabbat Dinner that included reading and re-interpreting Israel’s Declaration of Independence, at my main internship site, the Lone Soldier Center in Tel Aviv. But before I go in depth about this event and it’s significance, I will first explain what the Lone Soldier Center is.

Lone Soldier Center is a non-profit organization with four physical locations (in Beer Sheva, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Kibbutz Gesher in the North) that runs solely to support lone soldiers in the IDF from Israel and from abroad. The center does everything from hosting Shabbat dinners and offering a warm family environment for soldiers to assisting soldiers with literally every logistical problem they may and will encounter.

Now returning back to the topic of the Yom Ha’atzmaut Shabbat dinner... Every Shabbat dinner I have attended through Lone Soldier Center has been wonderful but the Yom Ha’atzmaut Shabbat stood out in particular. What it made it so special was, firstly, being able to celebrate Israeli independence day with the brave men and women, who left their home abroad or left their home in Israel through adverse circumstances to serve this wonderful, small and balagan country; the Jewish state. Secondly, taking the time to read over and analyze the Israeli Declaration of Independence gave this holiday extra meaning and further solidified the moral grounds that Israel was founded upon and still strives to uphold in the present. Lastly, two German members of parliament attended this event- MP Roderich Keiswetter and MP Dr. Thomas Feist. Their presence was greatly appreciated and was a unique opportunity for both the Israelis and Anglos who were there.

Not surprisingly, this event was a great success for the lone solider community, for the Daniel Centers and BINA (Tikkun Olam's parent organizations), who arranged a range of projects surrounding the Declaration of Independence around the country, and for my other outstanding friends from Tikkun Olam. My time at the Lone Soldier Center has exposed me to people and narratives that I would never have had the opportunity of being in contact with or knowing of normally. Also, a huge moment of thanks and recognition should be  given to the staff and volunteers who make the Lone Soldier Center run and for the lone soldiers themselves, who are human symbols of what it means to be a hero and a leader. Every day they do their service for Israel out of their own will, compassion and ambition and for that, all I can say is “Kol Hakavod and Toda Raba!”    

Tikkun Olam participants at the dinner