West Hempstead native Yitzchak Milworn decided long ago that he wanted to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. During his senior year of high school at Rambam Mesivta, a Jewish private school in Lawrence, in 2014, Milworn took part in a two-week volunteer program to support Sar-El, a nonprofit organization that supports the IDF. After he graduated that year, he moved to Israel to learn more about his family’s home country.
“It’s an interesting society here in Israel, and I just fell in love with the land and the people,” he said.
Now 22, Milworn, who began his service last March, is an infantryman in the 932nd battalion of the IDF’s Nahal Brigade.
He underwent eight months of training — four basic and four advanced — including battle tactics, weapons and group dynamics.
“I always saw it as a responsibility to serve my homeland,” Milworn said. “I had that imminent sense of duty since my high school years.”
He is known in the IDF as a lone soldier, a serviceman who does not have immediate family members in Israel. Milworn said that thanks to the Friends of the IDF — a nonprofit organization that supports Israeli soldiers — he gets to stay in touch with his family in West Hempstead. The organization provides a 24-hour call center and covers airfare for lone soldiers.
His parents, Stuart and Corrine Milworn, visited him twice since he enlisted. In May, they attended his swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem at the Western Wall, and in October, they were there for his beret ceremony. In December, he returned home for a month.
“It was nice to be back home and spend time with my family while seeing the community I grew up in,” Milworn said.
“We had extended family come in from Connecticut. We spent a day in the city. We walked on the Brooklyn Bridge, and we had a wonderful time together,” said his mother.
When Milworn told his family about his decision to serve in the IDF, his mother said that they were proud of him, and that they were not surprised.
“I don’t think he would be doing [it] if he wasn’t happy,” she said. “It’s difficult being a soldier anywhere. Your time is not your own, your life is not your own. He’s in a volatile place, and he understands that. I don’t know many other 19- and 20-year-olds who are able to move to another country and handle all of the bureaucracies, the army system and ultimately make a life for himself, but he’s living his dream.”
As of last September, there were 946 lone soldiers from the United States, according to the FIDF. Of those, 327 come from the tri-state area, with 208 from New York.
“A lone soldier is really remarkable because they leave the comfort of their home and the support of their family to go serve in the army,” said Felicia Solomon, Long Island director of FIDF. “It’s the urge for a young person to do something great and to have a connection with the state of Israel.”
In 2017, FIDF sponsored more than 900 flights for lone soldiers to connect them with their families. “They’re an extraordinary group of young people, and every single of them is remarkable in their own way,” Solomon said. “They’re young, brave and passionate people that we’re all lucky to have for the State of Israel, and they protect Jews all over the world.”
Milworn said that one of biggest challenges has been learning Hebrew. He spoke the language before he began his service, but he wants to become more fluent to connect with people.
“I’m also working on understanding the culture and learning how to navigate through it,” Milworn said. “It’s an everyday challenge because it’s different from the community I grew up in, but every day I try to improve.”
Milworn added that he hopes to go to college for theological study after his service.