newsIsrael at War

‘It’s not easy being a lone soldier, but I would do it all over again’

Jonas Cohen moved to Israel from New York to join the IDF as a medic.

Jonas Cohen. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Jonas Cohen. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

At the age of 21, Jonas Cohen embarked on a significant life journey by relocating to Israel from the United States in December 2022 through the Garin Tzabar program. This initiative is designed to facilitate service in the Israel Defense Forces and provide support to lone soldiers, that is those without close relatives in Israel who can help them.

In November 2023, he commenced his military service, completing a medic course. He currently serves as a medic at the IDF’s human resources instruction base.

Despite facing numerous challenges and feeling homesick, Cohen expresses no regrets about his decision to make aliyah and says that he would undertake the journey again without any reservations.

He hails from New York and is supported by the Lone Soldier Center—In Memory of Michael Levin, which has branches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Raised in a religiously observant family as the second of four siblings, Cohen has always felt a strong connection to Israel.

“I was brought up in a household where there was a profound connection to Israel, and I’ve always believed in the importance of contributing to the country. The sight of soldiers always inspired me to envision myself in their position one day,” he reflects.

After spending a year in Israel at the age of 18 to study in a yeshiva, Cohen returned to the U.S. However, within four months, he decided to enlist in the IDF. Through the Garin Tzabar program, he arrived with a group of immigrants at Sde Eliyahu, a religious kibbutz in northern Israel.

Following several months at Sde Eliyahu, Cohen finalized his aliyah process and, about a year later, moved into an apartment in Jerusalem with fellow lone soldiers as roommates. Before his enlistment, he dedicated his time to volunteering with the Magen David Adom emergency service. “I found great joy and satisfaction in being a paramedic, which led me to my current role as a medic,” he states.

Cohen’s parents recognized his determination and respected his choice, though their worry was palpable. “They knew things happen in Israel, and that’s exactly why I wanted to enlist. They understood that I chose to be here and that it was my decision. They tried not to show me their concern, but I know they were worried,” he shares. 

To those contemplating a similar path, Cohen is candid: “The decision to serve is not one to be taken lightly. It entails significant sacrifice, including prolonged separation from family. However, for those on the fence, I pose the question: Why not? Why not contribute to the utmost for the country?”

Originally published in Israel Hayom.

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