As the Israel-Gaza conflict escalates, parents of lone soldiers find support from each other through an online email group.
As 23-year-old combat medic Asaf Rothschild readies for a potential Israeli Defense Forces ground operation into the Gaza Strip, his mother prays for a cease-fire from her Lower Merion home.
Though Shelley Rothschild expressed pride in her son’s service as a “lone soldier,” a term used for those without immediate relatives in Israel, she admitted that she can’t help but worry about her son and daughter, Maytal Rothschild, 21, who is also serving in the IDF.
“For the most part I walk around extremely proud,” Rothschild said. “That pride goes out the door when you have a kid on the front line — that’s the real parent feeling.”
Rothschild’s dilemma underlines the complexity that thousands of parents of lone soldiers face in wanting to support their children but also worrying for their safety. Their children’s choice to serve in the IDF is out of their hands. But about 30 local families have at least found some support from each other through an online email group.
The unofficial email list was originally intended to serve more practical purposes — such as sending care packages and letters to their soldiers via other parents traveling to Israel— but “turned out to be more of an emotional thing,” said Dayna Glantz, whose eldest child, Rafi Glantz, serves as a combat medic.
Glantz, who lives in Elkins Park with her husband and three younger children, said the email list has been updated often since she helped found it two years ago. Parents leave the group as their soldiers complete their service while others join as their children enlist.
“There’s this unwritten warmth and caring with everybody,” Glantz said. “You may not really even know the other people” in the group, which has only met in person a couple of times, “but the minute we see each other or we hear the name, it’s like we’re family; there’s an undercurrent of understanding and compassion for each other.”
Another group founder, Lisa Richman, is currently in Israel visiting her daughter, 20-year-old Rebecca, who serves in the IDF’s civil administration unit that handles bureaucratic issues in the West Bank. Because of the conflict, Richman’s vacation has included unwanted hiccups.
“The first time I heard a siren on this trip, I was shaken,” Richman, a longtime teacher at Perelman Jewish Day School, wrote in an email. “The rising and falling of the air raid siren was chilling. I did not begin to relax until I heard Rebecca’s voice on the phone several hours later.”
Richman is also part of a Facebook group for English-speaking parents of IDF soldiers. “Being in touch with other parents of lone soldiers helped me understand some of the challenges our kids face.”
Though the conflict has proven to be a particularly difficult time — Rothschild said she cried when learning that Hamas would not accept the recently proposed cease-fire on Tuesday — she and Glantz said they hadn’t noticed a major uptick in emails from their support group.
Still, said Glantz, the online group offers an outlet she can’t find anywhere else. “I don’t even think I can put it into words,” Glantz said. “There’s a closeness, a bond, some kind of an affinity.”