Every soldier has a reason for enlisting: a purpose, a motivator behind their courageous decision to serve their country. What about those who chose to leave their country to serve as a Lone Soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)? What inspires them to take this bold step in protecting the people and the land of Israel? We, at Growing Wings, believe our Jewish history is key to providing these Lone Soldiers with the understanding and passion for defending the Jewish homeland. Join us and together we will give our soldiers this incredibly important experience before they join the ranks of the IDF.
What is Growing Wings?
Growing Wings is a non-profit initiative founded by veteran IDF Lone Soldiers for the next generation of Lone Soldiers. “Lone Soldier”, is a status given to soldiers in the IDF who do not have family in Israel to support him or her: a new immigrant, a volunteer from abroad, an orphan or an individual from a broken home. Our interest in starting this program began during our own IDF service. After learning that Israeli high school students travel to Poland prior to their service, we realized this was an opportunity not offered to most Lone Soldiers. While, Israelis enter the army with a more complete understanding of the importance of Israel and the remarkable history of the Jewish people, Lone Soldiers are missing this significant, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Growing Wings wants to provide this educational opportunity to those who leave their homes and move to Israel with the purpose of serving in the IDF.
Our mission is to create a better future for the next generation of Lone Soldiers through a journey into the past. Lone Soldiers, from overseas, come to Israel for a variety of reasons. One of the top reasons they come is to defend Israel and the Jewish people. But how many of these men and women realize just how incredible and important their decision to serve in the IDF is? This program will provide them with a greater sense of the purpose of their role in the IDF and create a stronger bond with Israel and their fellow Israeli soldiers. We will fill the void among Lone Soldiers and their Israeli counterparts, to unite the protectors of Israel.
Seeing sites of resistance, such as the Warsaw Ghetto and Sobibor will teach our participants about resilience in the face of death. These sites demonstrate how even during the dark times of the Holocaust, there were courageous acts in the fight for survival. The perseverance of the human spirit is evident here. It serves as a valuable lesson for our participants before their strenuous military service.
Synagogues, towns, and educational establishments rich with culture and Jewish history, were destroyed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. While much was lost, the ruins still give insight to the practices of Judaism during that time. Tracing our ancestors’ history will allow our participants to further connect with their own Jewish Identities.
We believe visiting Poland is a critical part of the pre-army preparation process for Lone Soldiers. Witnessing the destruction as a result of the Holocaust will give further purpose to their decision to serve. Furthermore, we hope this journey will be a building block for new relationships and for creating a community among the soldiers. Poland provides an environment that will encourage our participants to share their thoughts and emotions with one another. Our ultimate goal is that every Lone Soldier, regardless of the family they do or do not have in Israel, will return from Poland with a community they feel a part of. We want to ensure no Lone Soldier feels alone during this period of their life.
Who We Are
Max, Yuval, and Roy are the founders of Growing Wings. All of us were fortunate to lead and participate in delegations to Poland. We were empowered by our journeys and decided this was an experience that every IDF soldier should have before enlisting. We hope you’ll join us in making this vision a reality!
Co-Founder/Executive Director of Growing Wings
When I made Aliyah I expected to face my biggest challenge yet. I moved to Israel with no family, Hebrew, or understanding of Israeli culture, with a goal of enlisting into the Israel Defense Forces. While my military experience had its’ ups and downs, the one point of consistency was my community. We were a community of Lone Soldiers from the North East region of the United States. Over the three years we were together, our group became a family. We supported one another throughout the entirety of the service as well as after.
I served as a Lone Soldier in the Special Forces unit, Yahalom. I was the only Lone Soldier on a team of Israelis, which was a challenge but also a humbling opportunity. The connections I formed with my teammates helped me to become fully immersed into the Israeli culture. Through them, I saw how truly unique and profound their experiences in Poland were before they enlisted. I decided this important opportunity should be extended to all those joining the IDF, including Lone Soldiers.
My first time in Poland was after my army service, as a counselor for American High School students. When I stood on the train tracks in Auschwitz, I came to the realization that making Aliyah to the Land of Israel, was the dream for many of the victims who perished in the Holocaust. Being there as a released IDF soldier, with a group of Jews, I felt a sense of pride. In that moment we represented the strength of the Jewish people to persevere and never give up. Having an experience like this prior to enlisting is important and beneficial. It will help guide our participants throughout their army service, and when the hardships of being a soldier set in they will have this experience as an anchor, a reminder of why.
Co-Founder/Director of Education and Logistics
When I decided to draft in 2015, one year after operation “Protective Edge”, I was empowered by the thought of joining a long lineage of defenders for the Jewish nation. I was fortunate enough to have drafted to one of the Paratrooper’s elite special units, Palchan, and there I experienced the most trying, rewarding, and awesome times in my life thus far. My journey taught me a lot about myself: determination, family, perseverance, and most importantly about my Jewish Identity. These values, and several others, are the ideals and understandings I wish to pass on to our participants during their experience in Poland with Growing Wings. Poland provides for an intense, yet intimate, setting where pre-army Lone Soldiers can dive deeper into such intrinsic values in order to create a strong basic guideline for themselves before a meaningful military service.
I have been part of two programs in Poland, once as a student before my service and the second as a mentor after my service. During my first delegation I was posed with very challenging questions that I was unable to wrap my head around, the most prominent being “what am I doing and why?”. Throughout my service I would ask myself this question, trying to always find deeper meaning in the acts I did and the tasks I was completing. After finishing the military, returning to Poland as a mentor opened my eyes to further appreciate the significance of my service and how I completed a cycle. I realized choosing to enlist into the Israel Defense Forces is a momentous decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In doing so, a person takes upon themselves great responsibilities unmatched by any other and the opportunity to actively take part in the shaping of our country’s history. I am honored to have served in the IDF and be able to say that I fought for what my ancestors only dreamed of. This is why I believe every Lone Soldier is obligated to witness the sites in Poland before they enlist into the IDF.
Co-Founder/Director of Business Development and Finances
Growing up in Israel, the idea of soldiers, guns, uniforms, and the portrayal of chaos on the media was part of daily life. One of my earliest childhood memories is the image of soldiers walking through the streets of Tel-Aviv. After my family moved to the states, we still managed to visit Israel frequently, and the summer of 2006, when the 2nd Lebanon War broke out, was no exception. As a 12-year-old boy who lived in Boston, MA, seeing this conflict unfold made me realize how different this world was from my day to day life in Boston. Seeing how The State of Israel rose to support its’ protectors in the fight for the existence of our homeland, engraved a very powerful message in my mind. The idea that one day I would be that soldier on the front-line, protecting my people, with the unconditional support of a whole nation behind me, gave me direction. After high school I moved to Israel and enlisted into the IDF.
In March of 2013 I joined Palchan Tzanchanim, a special forces unit under the Paratroopers Brigade specializing in explosives. The decision to become a combat soldier was obvious. It was my turn to serve. Making this decision as a teenager, I didn’t fully understand the extent such a move would play in my life. My 16-months of training proved to be one of the most memorable periods of my life. To see a team of 20-individuals, from all facets of Israeli culture, come together to defend Israel’s existence, further solidified my fascination and love for this country. In the summer of 2014, after I finished training, flashbacks to 2006 came about when Operation Protective Edge in Gaza began. This time I wasn’t an outsider, but rather a soldier. With the Jewish nation supporting me, I helped protect the well-being of this country and its’ people. As this operation brought heavy emotional pain, it only strengthened my urge to act and give back.
Throughout my service I had always enjoyed reading books about the Holocaust. My teammates would often ask me why I was so infatuated with these stories, and I was never sure how to respond. After getting released from the service, I began my studies, during which I received a scholarship from the Heseg Foundation. Through this scholarship I was able to take part in a delegation to Poland. During this journey, I discovered the answer to my teammates’ question. I am so intrigued to learn about the Holocaust because of those who made it their mission to survive. These individuals, who were the great grandparents of the teammates that stood by my side during Operation Protective Edge, are the reason I was able to fight for the Jewish People. Their will empowered me to keep moving forward and to stand up for what I believe in, and this is why I am a part of Growing Wings. I want to help the generation of tomorrow realize the importance of their service and its effect on the continuity of The State of Israel and the Jewish people.
How You Will Help
The term “Lone Soldier” tends to have a negative connotation. Many Lone Soldiers lack a crucial support system during their intense service, which can result in a more lonely and difficult experience. However, with your help, we can launch this program to provide Lone Soldiers an opportunity to meet others who have the same goal: to love and protect Israel. This shared goal and sense of purpose will help them feel less alone, and more united through a common Jewish history and vision for the future. Our program will attempt to foster a feeling of community and family among the soldiers and will create a bridge between those who are Israeli born, and those from abroad.
Your support will help provide mentors (veteran Lone Soldiers) to current Lone Soldiers who will guide them through the journey, and become a body to turn to throughout their service. Who knows more about the struggles and pain endured in the military service than those who went through it themselves? This mentorship aspect of Growing Wings will bring great value to those who have served and will serve in the near future.
The Growing Wings Program Breakdown
The cost of sending one soldier is approximately $1,700. We hope to bring groups of 18 soldiers at a time. Our goal is to raise $50,000 dollars for the initial “Pilot” program. This amount will cover the complete cost of the preparatory seminars in Israel as well as the delegation to Poland, which will include 18 participants, 5 mentors, 1 tour guide, the 3 Co-Founders, and a professional videographer. Every contribution is critical and will be put towards the “Pilot” program.
Your support and generosity will provide:
– Transportation and Airfare
– Materials (Books, Stationary, etc)
– Programming and Logistics
– Site fees
– Insurance and Security
– Educational and Social Activities
– 1 Mentor and 3 Participant preparatory seminars
Kind Words For Growing Wings
A Letter from Staff Sergeant Avioz Hanan:
“My name is Avioz Hanan – I am originally from Teaneck, NJ and I served as a lone soldier in the IDF. Growing up in a Jewish home and community, I attended Solomon Schechter schools my entire life. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Poland with my 12th grade class and experience Jewish History like I never had before. We spent 8 days traveling around the country seeing not only concentration camps, but also towns and communities that once flourished with vibrant Jewish life.
Several years later, I made Aliya to join the IDF and proudly served in a combat unit. The contrast of the two experiences is dramatic to say the least. Thinking back to my time in Poland, one thought that kept coming up was “if only they had the means to have fought back…” and I would imagine myself as a soldier of the Israel Defense Forces, ready to confront any possible threat that the people of Israel may face.
The trip to Poland exposed me to some of the atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust as well as to the prosperous Jewish life and culture that existed before. It was an educational experience that strengthened my connection to the Jewish people and ultimately led to my decision to serve in the IDF.
After my service, I once again travelled with the Solomon Schechter School to Poland, but this time as a mentor to the 12th graders. I had come full circle – from my first trip to Poland when I imagined what it would be like to be a soldier in the IDF, and coming back there proud of what I, and the Jewish people, have accomplished.
Growing Wings will give soon-to-be lone soldiers an opportunity of a lifetime, connecting them even more so to their Jewish roots and giving a deeper meaning and understanding to the upcoming journey on which they are about to embark. More so, it will provide them a community with which they will go through this journey. All of the participants will have shared these times together, the trip to Poland bringing them together and their experiences from the army keeping them close.”
A Letter from Lieutenant Amit:
“The journey to Poland was a moving experience that has rooted me even more deeply in my Jewish identity. Together with other officers from different branches of the military we listened to the unimaginably horrific testimonies of the holocaust survivors who guided us on the journey. Walking through the land marks that symbolize a monumental chapter in our history was touching and gave me more motivation to serve my part in protecting the Jewish nation. The strength we presented as soldiers in uniform in the land where our existence was put in danger, was powerful. I feel the journey has helped shape and bring to life my own family’s history.”