Southfield native Ari Weiss was stuck on base for 45 days.
Southfield native and Frankel Jewish Academy alumnus, Corporal Ari Weiss, 19, is a combat soldier in the Combat Engineering Corps of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and joined the IDF in August 2019. He is currently in the midst of a four month battalion-wide training period, and, like the rest of his base, he was placed in extended quarantine during COVID-19.
Lone Soldiers are men and women from around the world who choose to leave the comfort of their own homes and families to become soldiers in the IDF. While uprooting their lives and being away from loved ones is difficult enough, the turmoil of a pandemic makes the process even harder.
Weiss decided to become a Lone Soldier after a trip through the Bnei Akiva Mach Hach BaAretz program when he was 16. Mach Hach BaAretz is a five-week Israel summer tour program that takes 10th-grade students on a tour of the entire country.
He immediately fell in love with Israel and knew after three weeks that he wanted to move there. Weiss also had learned and was inspired by one of his great-grandfather’s cousins, who fought for the British army against the Nazis in World War II.
While Weiss’ role has not changed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he has had plenty of friends who have been ordered to help out during the height of the pandemic. Some soldiers had helped distribute food, make sure roads were closed and ensure people were staying safe.
Due to the outbreak, Weiss and the other soldiers also had to remain on their base for 45 days. Usually, they are allowed to get out every weekend or at least every other weekend.
“It was difficult, I’ll be honest. We were supposed to get a week off for Pesach and everything got cast into uncertainty,” Weiss told the Jewish News. “A lot of us were worried about basic things, such as clothes and soap, etc. I luckily had a little bit of an advanced warning so I had brought enough clothes.”
Thankfully, the IDF brought washing machines and dryers to bases that might not have them, which included Weiss’. The IDF also had shipments of soap, shampoo and food delivered to all bases for the soldiers, courtesy of some of their donors.
The Friends of the IDF (FIDF) has also stepped up during this time of uncertainty for their soldiers. The FIDF is a nationwide, non-political, non-military organization that offers educational, cultural, financial and social services programs to support the well-being of IDF soldiers, veterans and family members.
The FIDF provides support for these soldiers through housing, mentoring, a 24-hour call center, financial grants, flights to visit their families abroad, Shabbat meals, holiday gift packages, social gatherings, and more.
Paula Lebowitz, FIDF Michigan Executive Director, leads FIDF’s fundraising efforts in Detroit and the suburban cities. All of the funds go directly towards the well-being of the soldiers of the IDF. Throughout the pandemic, she has been reaching out to the parents of Lone Soldiers to check in on them.
“Our soldiers need our support since they can’t fly home and be with their families,” Lebowitz said. “Most of them don’t have family in Israel, so it is our responsibility to make sure they are taken care of.”
FIDF Michigan has been sending constant emails to the families of Lone Soldiers to ensure that they are kept in the loop regarding their sons and daughters.
“The FIDF Israel office has really done a great job locating Lone Soldiers and making sure to check in on them since they cannot be with their families,” Lebowitz said. “The FIDF Israel office then sends us any updates on our local soldiers so that we can disseminate that information to the families here in Michigan.”
Weiss’ parents, David Weiss and Jordana Wolfson, especially felt the support from the FIDF Michigan. Lebowitz personally called Wolfson to check in and ask how she was doing and how Weiss was doing.
“I almost burst into tears because it was the sweetest phone call I had received. I felt as though I was trying to control everything and stay calm and it was so nice to receive support from the FIDF that somebody cared that my child is over in Israel and that I might be having a hard time,” Wolfson said. “It felt so amazing to have that thought and care not only given to me, but my son as well.”
Wolfson is very proud of Weiss and is always concerned for his safety. She is thankful for the FIDF to make sure that her son is taken care of which helps ease the stress of being a parent of a Lone Soldier, especially during a pandemic.
“It’s very hard and very scary to be away from my family during this time,” Weiss said. “It’s not only hard being away from my immediate family, but also worrying about my grandmothers and other older relatives.”
Weiss talks with his parents every week before Shabbat, but with all the extra time on base, they have been able to connect a lot more; an unexpected benefit to help him and his family get through this challenging time.