Interview: Joshua Flaster & Michael Domb
Israel’s military is unique. How so? For one, it is a civilian army, which means 18-year-old men and women are required to serve their country through military service right out of high school. Israel also has a slightly different focus on the way they defend themselves. Unlike the United States who has allies on their borders, Israel is constantly defending their homeland from their neighbors. Inside their military, they also have a unique program where Jewish people from all over the world can come and serve in the military. They are called “Lone Soldiers.”
Recently Chris was able to sit down with Michael Domb and Joshua Flaster from the Lone Soldier Center. Michael and Joshua will share their experience being lone soldiers themselves and how they are helping these men and women from all over the world thrive in a foreign land where they’ve chosen to serve.
The Friends of Israel has a special connection with The Lone Soldier Center. It’s something close to our hearts. If you want to learn more about this special work you can go to https://lonesoldiercenter.com/ or visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/soldiercenter/.
Steve Conover: This is the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover and with me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. We have an exciting program today and we'll get to that in a moment but first Chris, many in our audience may have heard, CNN fired commentator and Temple University professor Mark Lamont Hill for a speech he gave at the United Nations. It was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it's where he said Palestinians have the right to resist saying, quote, "Free Palestine from the river, to the sea." End quote. He's not the first person to use that slogan, that slogan is used by the terrorist organization Hamas to proclaim their desire to see no Jewish person between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which happens to be the exact location where the modern state of Israel's placed.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, Mark Lamont Hill is actually promoting violence. He's saying that the Palestinian people have a right to resist the Israelis and then he's also going that one step further and he's saying, "Free Palestine from the river to the sea." Like you said, Steve, that's all of Israel, that's the heart of Israel right there. Hill defended his statement saying that it has a variety of meaning which I just think is absolutely absurd. It had one meaning and it has one meaning only, to get rid of Israel and the Jewish people. This is my take, Mark Lamont Hill may have used that slogan for his unique meaning but when he calls Palestinians to resist Israelis along with that slogan, he's promoting violence and the elimination of Israel and the Jewish people from the land. For being a professor Steve, from Temple University, his choice of words, I don't think were that smart.
Steve Conover: The state of Israel has a civilian army, which means 18 year old men and women are required to serve their country through military service but there is a unique group of people who value the state of Israel and are willing to defend it even though they weren't born there or are even citizens. On today's show, Joshua Flaster and Michael Domb from the Lone Soldier Center will be joining Chris to discuss their work in Israel.
Chris Katulka: Gentlemen, thanks for joining us today, we really appreciate it.
Joshua Flaster: It's a pleasure.
Michael Domb: Thank you very much for having us.
Chris Katulka: Lone Soldier Center. First of all, I know what the Lone Soldier Center is all about, we just heard from you in one of our chapels here at the Friends of Israel, where you explained it and I understand what a Lone Soldier is, we're talking about Israeli Defense Forces for our listeners but could you highlight, could you share a little bit about what a lone soldier is? Josh, I'll go to you first.
Joshua Flaster: So it's a classification that's given by the IDF itself to a soldier who lives in Israel, first and foremost without their family. So you have young Jewish people from around the world who have a desire to serve and to give and protect the Jewish state who will leave behind their families or communities, their lives where they grew up, to move to Israel and once you arrive in Israel, until the age of 25 for a man, 22 for a female, you're required to join the IDF. It's mandatory service, there's young people who are volunteering anyway to go there and to serve and because your family can't support you and can't look after you, Israel's a teeny tiny country, and soldiers go home every weekend to rest, to recharge their batteries, get some tender loving care from their family, There's a whole package of support that the Israeli family provides to their soldier.
For lone soldier, who doesn't have a family to support them, it can be a big problem, it can be very difficult for them, so therefore the IDF came up with this title of lone soldier to classify these soldiers who need more help and support and they have an organization that provides that to them.
Chris Katulka: Michael can you share, in the American mind and the Canadian mind, when it comes to the army, the military, you're thinking about somebody going away for a long time. In the Israeli world though, because Josh was just talking about the influence of a family, in the Israeli world, how is it different than what we would understand about the army?
Michael Domb: So it's a little bit different because in Israel, our enemies, our borders are our front lines, in Lebanon and Gaza and the West Bank. So that means that soldiers are fighting, it can be five or 10 or 50 kilometers from their home and that's a little bit different from Canada and America, where you're going across the world to fight. What that means is that on weekends, you're actually coming home to your families. So the difference with lone soldiers is that they don't have a place to go home to. They don't have a family to go home to do their laundry, to cook for them and to care for them when they're coming home from the front line.
So there's a huge amount ... there's a great demand for the social support that a family provides, especially when you're coming home from war and from a front line. When all your friends are coming home and they're getting that love and care from a family, lone soldiers are missing that, so that's where our organization comes in and provides the love and care that a family would otherwise provide to these incredible volunteers who have come from abroad to join the Israeli army.
Joshua Flaster: That's beautiful for your average Israeli soldier who grew up in Israel, you go home to your, whatever the ... To your mom's meatballs and chicken wings and whatever your favorite dishes are, that they're awaiting you when you open the door and you drop off your backpack with all of your gear and your laundry from the army for a week or two that you're on base and magically this appears by the front door again on Sunday morning before you go back to base and it's folded and smells clean and it is clean but-
Chris Katulka: It sounds like heaven.
Joshua Flaster: ... but for a soldier who's there as a lone soldier on their own in the country, then there's nobody making those meals for you, there's no one doing the laundry for you, so there's this big gap in their reality when they leave base.
Chris Katulka: Josh, can you share a little bit about why would somebody who's not in Israel, didn't grow up in Israel, didn't have family in Israel, or whatever, why would they leave America, Mexico, Canada, the European nations? Why would they leave there and go serve the Israeli army? Can you share a little bit about that?
Joshua Flaster: Every individual obviously has their own story, but I'd say the threads that connect them for of the young people who we meet who, thousands who serve as lone soldiers, is just an overarching love for the Jewish people, for the Jewish state and the desire to protect and defend something that's so precious, something that we didn't have for 2,000 plus years, a Jewish homeland, a state with our own flag, our own national anthem. They have a Jewish state, something that is very precious and that we don't take for granted at all as Jews, or as Israelis, it's something that you have to fight to have.
Chris Katulka: And this is all near and dear to both you and Michael, because you're from Phoenix and Michael, you're from Toronto, so we have the US represented, we have Canada represented and both of you are lone soldiers, you've both served in the army in Israel.
Joshua Flaster: Yeah, that's part of our life stories and who we are.
Chris Katulka: Yeah.
Michael Domb: No, I don't actually see it as Jews, or whoever's coming to be a lone soldier, as serving someone else. You're really serving your community and Israel has been a haven for hundreds of thousands of Jews that fled the Holocaust and it's still a haven today, for Jews as well. There are Jews who are leaving persecution in Europe, like they once did in the 1940s and '50s. It's serving as a haven like that again today.
Chris Katulka: Now your program, The Lone Soldier Center, is actually built on an event, actually a person's life who is affected as a lone soldier, who gave his life serving the nation of Israel, can you share a little bit ... actually Michael if you wouldn't mind, sharing a little bit about Michael Levin.
Michael Domb: So Michael Levin was a lone soldier, right from here, from Pennsylvania, from Philadelphia and Michael came and volunteered to join the Israeli army. Now this was when it was much less popular to be a lone soldier, there were about 4,000 lone soldiers in the army at the time and today there are 7,000. Michael was on his month abroad, his trip home, his R and R in America and that's when the second Lebanon war broke out. When the war broke out, Michael said, "It's my duty and my friends are fighting in Lebanon, I have to go back." So Michael immediately got on an airplane and flew right back to Israel.
When he landed in Israel, they gave him duty to guard some sort of warehouse, somewhere very far from Lebanon and Michael said, "No way." He fought to get to the war in Lebanon and a few days later, he joined his friends fighting in the south of Lebanon, in a town called Ayta ash-Shab. Unfortunately, a day or two after he went in, he was killed in Lebanon.
Chris Katulka: The Levin families are very, very close to the Friends of Israel, the leadership of the Friends of Israel, we have a very close relationship with them and so it really meant a lot to you all and it meant a lot to us as well, when Michael Levin lost his life, serving in the IDF. Josh, how did the impetus of what happened with Michael become the beginning of the Lone Soldier Center?
Joshua Flaster: So Michael's personality, he was a very giving person who looked out for other soldiers, especially other lone soldiers who might have been down on their luck and needed help or a place to eat or sleep. He was, for the informal community of lone soldiers living in Jerusalem at the time, he was kind of the pillar and the essential meeting place was his apartment, where a lot of us would get together and have Friday night meals and hang out by him. So after Michael was killed, we felt that the most fitting tribute to his life and how he lived his life and what mattered to him, would be to create something that would allow us to take care of other, younger lone soldiers coming to the country. To educate them, to feed them, to look out for them, because that was something that Michael did to the most of his abilities as a soldier himself. He would, every time he had off, look out for his soldiers, invite us over, try to make us feel at home in Israel.
So once he was no longer with us, we decided that we needed to do everything in our power to keep that spirit of looking out, trying to support younger guys, soldiers arriving who need help, who need direction, who need a place to be, we decided that that was the most correct tribute we could do to his memory and keep his values alive, was by to create this institution that helps all of the lone soldiers coming to Israel.
Chris Katulka: On your website, which is lonesoldiercenter.com, and I'm going to encourage my listeners to go to lonesoldiercenter.com, it's right there that you can see in their title, the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin, so you can see how important his life is. When we come back after our break, we're going to continue our discussion here and we're going to learn a little bit how PTSD, something that Americans who leave the army often can suffer, especially if they've gone over and served in battle, how it functions a little differently, or is dealt with differently in Israel and also how that affects the lone soldier who's serving over there. So be sure to stick around.
Steve Conover: We'd like to take a moment to mention that the Friends of Israel Today is a listener supported program and we'd ask that you prayerfully consider becoming a monthly supporter of this ministry. You can find out more at foiradio.org, or call and leave us a message on our listener line, at 888-343-6940. Again, foiradio.org or call our listener line at 888-343-6940. If you call, someone will return your call during regular business hours. Be sure to let us know where you listen when you contact us.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everyone, we are talking with Josh Flaster, the director of the Lone Soldier Center and Michael Domb, the chief operating officer. Josh, during our meeting that we had earlier today, you said something to me that just really opened my eyes to the issue of PTSD. We talk about it in America in one certain way but you brought up an interesting thing about how Israelis deal with PTSD and how it functions a little differently in society. Could you share with our listeners about that?
Joshua Flaster: So as Mike touched on before, the fact that Israel's battlegrounds and the wars that have to be fought are fought so close to home, the Israeli army and Israeli society is a society that sadly has seen a lot of wars and violence over the years. So when an Israeli soldier returns home from a mission, from combat, they go back to a family unit, where their dad, their brothers, their uncle, their grandfather, has most likely been to war, seen difficult things, taken part in missions and is really able to help them process whatever traumatic experiences or otherwise they went through.
They have a built in support network and system who can help them process that, because I know in the United States, often when veterans come back, there'll be one guy in town who'll have a ... very few people who they really feel like they can open up to and start to process what they went through. I'm not a psychologist, not someone who's qualified to deal with post-trauma and PTSD and things like that, but from the experts who do host from time to time and consult with, they say the most important job we have is to start the conversation. To get the soldier talking, to get it off their chest so it's not something that weighs them down and five, 10 years down the road can really mess up their lives.
Your average Israeli has a huge advantage that they go home to a family where their loved ones, who know them best, have been through similar situations themselves and know when to give space, when to give a hug, how and when intervention is necessary, isn't necessary and a lot of it they can do themselves because they've been through it themselves.
Chris Katulka: I find that incredibly fascinating because when our guys return home, a lot of civilians can't relate with them and they can't connect with them because they've never been through that, where in Israel, the whole country serves in the army for the most part, and that's not only a family unit that's supporting them, it's an entire country that gets behind their soldiers and supports them, for the most part. I'm not saying it's a 100% but it's an entire structure and that's why it's important that you both are directing this program, the Lone Soldier Center, because lone soldiers don't have that net that you're talking about.
Can you share with our listeners some of the practical ways that the Lone Soldier Center is helping these lone soldiers who are coming over to serve Israel, to serve in the IDF, provide them with a family structure that they don't have there right away?
Joshua Flaster: So there's three main areas of operations that we provide, that we focus on, to give the feeling in a real home to the soldiers when they arrive. The most fun one that I enjoy the most, is the events and the meals that we have constantly to build a sense of community for them. On Friday night, when the Jewish Shabbat, Sabbath, comes in, that's traditionally when Jewish families get together and you sit down with your core family and your extended family and neighbors for a beautiful meal together. That's something that most Jewish people grew up with to some degree, and that all Israelis partake in on Friday nights. Because the soldiers have no family to go home to when they get off for the weekend, on Friday night we have very big meals, 100, 150 soldiers that we host together at our central location in Jerusalem and similar numbers in Tel Aviv.
They come together and they break bread and enjoy the company of other soldiers from their country, from their background, so different backgrounds, from units across the army, but they get together with their peer group of other soldiers their age who are also alone in the country and then there's beautiful bonds that are created there.
The second area that is really interesting and relatively new for us is we have today seven different houses. One of them's a seven-story building, so homes and buildings where we house the soldiers so they're not ... They're coming home to a vibrant building. There's counselors, dorm counselors if you will, who most likely were officers in the army themselves, who have been through a lot and who are able to really help them cope and understand and decompress on their time off of base. So we have housing projects across the country, there's four in Jerusalem and three in the Tel Aviv area, where the soldiers live. That's something we want to grow. Today we're housing 150 soldiers, there's almost 7,000 in service as lone soldiers so it's something that we definitely have a ton of demand for and a long waiting list for every spot in the homes, for soldiers who want to move in.
The third area that is our meat and potatoes as an organization is advice and counseling. The advice and counseling, a lot of it, is given by former lone soldiers who came over four or five years before and served in the paratroopers and tanks and infantry and different parts of the army and give advice to the next generation of young people coming. Telling them the truth about the army, we don't recruit anyone to come to Israel, we don't recruit anyone to draft into the army. We tell them the truth and nothing but the truth about what military service is. The difficulties, very often the hard times that you're going to go through, because we strongly believe as an organization that people need to come and to serve in the IDF for the right reasons, which is just a love of Zion, a love of the Jewish people and a desire to give and to serve.
You do it for the greater good, for a bigger cause, for a people and a nation and a history that you connect to, that you love and want to protect. If they do it for those reasons, they'll have a ... I won't say they'll have an easy time, but they'll succeed. So we want to make sure that they're going in for those reasons and we advise and counsel them through the ups and downs of military service. They finish their 80 kilometer ... it's all kilometers in Israel, you finish your 80 kilometer beret march and you're officially welcomed in the paratrooper family, the Golani family, whatever unit you finished in. Most likely your family's not there. So all the Israelis show up and they clap and they bring a ... in America it would be donuts, in Israel it's bourekas, they bring these-
Chris Katulka: Love bourekas.
Joshua Flaster: You bring these very special pastries and celebrate with your family. For the lone soldiers that don't have family there, we're there for the milestones in the military service, to encourage them, celebrate with them and make them feel good and if they do go through harder times in the army, difficult missions, difficult operations where things don't always go as planned, that's the nature of warfare sadly, so then we're there for them and we have social workers and volunteers and a staff who helps them through some of the more difficult times as well.
Chris Katulka: So you're really providing a safety net, a physical safety net, putting roofs over heads of lone soldiers, emotional safety net, you're providing the family structure that they don't have in a very family-oriented society, which I think is really important. So Josh and Michael, I want to thank you for joining us today.
Listen, to you, my listeners, this is an opportunity for you to respond. We're talking about people who love Israel like you, who love the Jewish people, like you, who are doing more than just simply loving and caring for Israel and Jewish people, they're actually going over and serving in the army. So if this is something that matters to you, I encourage you to go to lonesoldiercenter.com and there they have a donate button, I'm looking at it right now, you can click on that and you can give to this amazing organization that gets behind these soldiers, these volunteers who come over to serve and to protect the state of Israel. Josh, Michael, thank you for joining me today.
Joshua Flaster: Thank you so much.
Michael Domb: Thank you for having us.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples Of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: I was called up for military service recently and this time it was a miracle that I came home alive. I thank God that I was saved from this boiling pot, which is impossible to describe. It is like a volcano that erupts every few months. By now I've become used to it. After this trip, I visited a family whose two oldest children had recently married. Now there are only six children left at home. The oldest being 14 and the youngest, three. I visited their home in the company of my commanding officer and they received us courteously. This officer treats me very well, although he knows that I'm a believer. A year ago, he took my New Testament from my rucksack and we're now great friends because of his position.
Because of his position he has to be very careful, the authorities cannot do anything to me but he has rank and could get himself into trouble. We were able to discuss the things of Christ in the home of the family we visited. We prayed together and they thanked me for visiting them again.
When I returned to my work, my fellow laborers could not believe that I had come back. One of them said, "A goy has luck." And they called me a goy, gentile, because I believe in Jesus. He said, "Couldn't you have gotten killed instead of one of our own?" I answered, "Is it perhaps because the Lord has a plan for me to proclaim His gospel, that He saved me?" I'm sure of this and this is not the first time that the Lord has saved me. I have been in similar situations before but as you can see, I'm safe and sound. Is it not a miracle?
My foreman stood on the sidelines listening to our conversation and at the end he came to me and said, "If you do not stop these communications about the gospel, I will dismiss you." I answered, "If you wish, you can do so immediately but I will say what I want to say and no one can forbid me. I'm not employed here as a high official, but as a hard-working construction man. What is your decision?"
He thought for a moment and then said, "Stay." He thought for a moment and then said, "Stay." "I take it then," I said, "... that you really enjoy hearing my testimony and that I am permitted to say what I stand for?" This incident gave me greater courage to bear witness every time I can, whenever I can and wherever I can. Most of the people with whom I work are from Kurdistan and Iraq and have never before heard about the Lord Jesus. That is why the foreman was so afraid of my testimony but whether he likes it or not, he hears about the Lord. I do my work well and he can find no fault with me.
I said to him, "The day will come when you will implore the Lord in the name of Jesus to forgive you. There are no heroes before God." He replied, "Enough of the lesson for today." I then remarked, "I would like you not only to learn the lesson, but to do some homework." For the first time he laughed and now the men who worked with me are very interested and ask me many questions.
Chris Katulka: The impact of Zvi's life and ministry in Israel continues to inspire. Zvi's ministry in Israel lives on through his family today and has encouraged many of our Friends of Israel workers around the world to continue ministering to the Jewish community. When you give to the Friends of Israel, your donation allows us to advance the gospel of our Messiah, Jesus. You can give online by visiting foiradio.org, and you can click on our donate link which is right there on our web page. Also, be sure to let us know where you're listening when you contact us.
Steve Conover: We appreciate Joshua Flaster and Michael Domb coming on the program today. Visit lonesoldiercenter.com, that's lonesoldiercenter, all one word, .com to find out more about their work and how you can partner with them. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern, Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold, our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry, communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
The Friends of Israel Today
Apples of Gold: Boldness in Persecution
Zvi returned from a military operation and was thankful to God that he survived. It was truly a miracle he came back alive. When he returned to work many there made comments that they wished he had died instead of his fellow soldiers because as a Christian they did not consider him a Jew like themselves. Zvi’s response is one of love, compassion, and boldness. Listen how God used him in front of his coworkers.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.