This article was originally published by Brett M. Rhyne in The Jewish Advocate of Boston

A pair of Lone Soldiers from the Boston area highlighted the annual dinner of the New England region Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center here Nov. 7.

Lt. Amit Arbel turned 21 the day of the event. “I grew up here in Brookline, Massachusetts,” she said. “Three years ago, I made aliyah to Israel. Then I started my service in the Israeli Defense Forces.” Arbel credited her family for choosing to become a Lone Soldier.

 

IDF Lt. Amit Arbel PHOTO COURTESY FIDF
IDF Lt. Amit Arbel PHOTO COURTESY FIDF

“My parents are both Israeli,” she said. “My dad was a pilot; my mom was also an officer in the IDF. At home, we grew up being taught to love Israel and give whatever you can to the country. That’s why I decided to make aliyah and serve in the IDF. My family stayed here, which is why I became a Lone Soldier.”

Arbel  does  have grandparents in Israel, but her immediate family lives in Brookline. She has three younger sisters.

“The one after me also came to Israel and also made aliyah after me,” she said. “So it’s the both of us together there now.”

“I’ve served a number of different roles in the IDF,” Arbel said. “Today, I am a company commander for the basic and advanced training of war room operators. I command over 100 soldiers. Basically, they come into the army for the first time and I teach them how to be soldiers; then I teach them how to be war room operators.” Arbel attended the Devotion School and Brookline High School before making aliyah. “Obviously, it’s a very different community than the community here,” she said. “The Israeli community is incredibly loving. It feels like one huge hug.

“When you’re walking anywhere,” she added, “or just pick up a random conversation on the train, five minutes later you’re best friends, and he invites you over for Shabbat dinner. It’s a very special connection, and serving in the IDF, you just feel that much more connected to the country, to the people, to the history. It’s really incredible.” Arbel is deeply enamored of her fellow soldiers. “They’re basically my family,” she said. “Because my family is far away, they do become my family. We’re very, very close.”

Arbel plans to make army service her career. Another Lone Soldier, originally from Newton, was present to help make the connection between New England FIDF and the Boston community. He stressed his Jewish upbringing as the reason for joining the IDF. “I grew up going to Jewish day school, and summer camp, and shul,” he said. “I grew up in a strong Zionist family, where Jewish and Zionist values are very important. I spent a lot of time in Israel: I went in eighth grade, and then I spent three months there my junior year of high school. I did a gap year in Israel after high school.

“I definitely knew then that I wanted to spend more time in Israel,” he continued. “I was very interested in enlisting in the IDF. My parents strongly advised me to come back and go to college first. So I came back to the States, went to college and graduated with a degree in biology.

IDF Lt. Amit Arbel at the FIDF dinner in Boston PHOTO: BRETT M. RHYNE/TJA
IDF Lt. Amit Arbel at the FIDF dinner in Boston PHOTO: BRETT M. RHYNE/TJA

 

I was supposed to move to Chicago and do consulting, but what I was really passionate about – and I knew what was most important to me – was to go to Israel and join the IDF. He made aliyah in the summer of 2016 and was drafted in November of that year. He currently serves as a sniper in a counterterrorism unit. “It’s been incredible,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where I would end up in the army. I got into a unit that I’m really happy with. I like the guys I’m with. I’ve had really good experiences with commanders and with the people on my team. We do interesting and important work. It’s a great atmosphere, a great environment to be in.” His parents are “proud and terrified” of his service in the IDF.

“My parents very much did not want me to go,” he said. “My parents are very strong Zionists and supporters of Israel, but were not so thrilled with me wanting to go join the army. But from the minute that I told them that’s what I was doing and had made my decision, they’ve been nothing but the most supportive people in the world.”

He has nine months left in his service, at which point he will be discharged along with the rest of his team. He is not sure whether he will stay in Israel or return to the U.S. at that time. “That’s the question,” he said. “I have a lot of thoughts but very little clarity. I think I could be really happy doing a number of things in a lot of places.”

The 1,200 people in attendance at the event contributed over $1 million to programs that support the young men and women of the Israeli military, according to the FIDF.

“We are so pleased to be here at the FIDF gala,” Arbel said. “The support and the love that we get from the people here is incredible. Having that connection, coming here, feeling all that love is truly inspiring to us. We love what we do, so it’s very fulfilling.”