The Israeli Air Force has 600 “Lone Soldiers” currently serving in its ranks, leaving behind their families and homes in favor of the difficult and unknown. Keren Ben-Yehuda, a recently certified Aerial Operations Room Worker, is one of them
“I moved from Israel to St. Louis, Missouri, in the first grade”, says Ben-Yehuda, “And I’ve been saying that I’m going to come back ever since”. Her family’s stay in the United States extended for longer than expected, her parents still there to this day.
But Keren, 20, maintains that the emotional bond to Israel remained strong. “In the beginning it was because I came here every summer, ate the lemon Popsicle and went to the beach and had a wonderful time”, she confesses with a laugh. “When I grew up, I understood that it was because I also loved the culture more, the variety of behaviors. The people here are more free-spirited, more authentic, part of the one small Jewish state”.
Ben-Yehuda soon realized she wanted to be a part of the efforts to keep Israel safe, getting drafted soon after completing her “Service Year”: “I think it’s immensely important that we have our own state. And I definitely felt that I should not take it for granted that people go into war to protect it”, she says. “I couldn’t just come to visit and enjoy it without taking part in the fight to make sure this place continues to exist”.
Keren is a part of a program that prepares young people from the U.S who chose to move to Israel for conscription to the IDF. “I felt that if my grandparents came here, along with many others, they must have made a tremendous effort and I need to stay here. I want to have children and grandchildren that will be Israeli”.
“Oh, I miss them constantly. But it’s nicer to celebrate the Jewish holidays here in Israel”, she says cheerfully when asked about missing family and friends. “In the U.S, I would go to school, come back home and someone would offhandedly say something like, ‘It’s Rosh Ha’shana tomorrow’”, she laughs. “Here, the entire country celebrates at the same time and greetings are written on signs on buses, on the street, it feels like home. A home I want to protect”.