New immigrants making a difference as IDF ‘lone soldiers’

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May 15, 2024 | News | Other | People | National
New immigrants making a difference as IDF ‘lone soldiers’
Caption: Israeli soldiers during Gaza ground operations, March 19, 2024. Credit: IDF.

JNS

“These are difficult times, but we have to hold our heads up high," says Ezequiel Pachter, who immigrated to Israel from Argentina in 2022 with the aim of joining the IDF.

On Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), Israelis celebrate the bravery and heroism of those who fought in the 1948 War of Independence to ensure the survival of the fledgling Jewish state.

In the wake of Hamas's brutal Oct. 7 invasion of southern Israel, the country now has many more heroes to celebrate. Included in that group are immigrant "lone soldiers" (soldiers without family in Israel) who were forced to fight for the country's survival very nearly "fresh off the boat," just as their predecessors did 76 years ago.

Some of these soldiers immigrated from countries including Argentina with the assistance of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), an organization committed to helping Jews escape poverty and anti-Semitism and assist in their return to their biblical homeland. 

Ezequiel Pachter, 22, immigrated from Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2022, and lives in Netanya. In Argentina, he was very active as a freestyle wrestler at the local Maccabi sports center and was also involved in serving as a security guard to protect the Jewish community.

He told JNS he decided to move to Israel “because I wanted something more important in my life,” namely to join the Israel Defense Forces. Upon arrival, Pachter enlisted and is now a commander in the IDF’s Search and Rescue unit. On Oct. 7, he was at home in Netanya when he got the call to head into battle against Hamas at the IDF's Zikim base, just north of Gaza.

Pachter and his fellow soldiers succeeded in beating back the terrorists, but that "was the beginning of a very difficult and intense month of fighting,” in which he lost several friends.

"It’s tough to be a fighter, there's a lot of responsibility but this is what I chose." The key, he said, is “don’t think, just do,” as your training and experience take over. “The first time you stop to think, that’s when you can get hurt,” he said.

In about a month and a half, Patcher is set to become a commander leading a basic training course for new recruits. He said that his parents back in Argentina are very supportive and proud of him. His girlfriend, who is also a lone soldier from Argentina, has started her official immigration process.

Concerning the upcoming holiday, said Patcher, “These are difficult times, but we have to hold our heads up high. It will be challenging to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut this year, but we have to continue the fight and maintain our determination until there is peace.”

Uriel Ruetter, 25, immigrated as a lone soldier from Buenos Aires in 2022, settling in Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak along the border with Gaza. Ruetter, who has a degree in international relations from Argentina, serves in the Paratroopers Brigade.

On Oct. 7, Reutter was on leave at a friend’s house in Tel Aviv when Hamas terrorists attacked his community. He got a message from his commander telling him to head to base and pick up his equipment, as his unit was being sent into Sderot to fight the terrorists that had infiltrated that town. 

“We were in the last phases of training when the war started," he told JNS. "But once we entered Sderot, we had to make the switch from trainees to fighters.”

Ruetter's commander, Itay-Eliahu Marchiano, was the first of the unit to fall that day, during the first hours of fighting. “He was the one who pushed us, but when he fell, we were forced to make that push instead of him, and we had to gain strength from him,” he said.  

After the battle for Sderot, Ruetter and his unit were sent to the area of Kibbutz Re’im, where they witnessed the carnage Hamas had left at the Nova Music Festival. He recalls being shocked by the destruction. His unit was then deployed to Gaza for more than 30 days to continue the fight against Hamas. Ruetter said his parents back in Argentina are worried about him but very proud.

He is scheduled to complete his army service, after which he plans to pursue a career in his chosen field.

Ruetter reflected on this week’s Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day—saying, “Whether the Holocaust or Oct. 7, and witnessing what’s going on here in Israel, and the anti-Semitism all over the world, we must explore what can take away from it. We must push forward with strength and not weakness. That’s the only way.”

With regard to Independence Day, Ruetter said, “I feel I made the right decision to come to Israel. A few years ago, I had to explain and justify why I moved here. Now, people understand the dangers of living as a Jew abroad. [Since Oct. 7] I feel even more satisfied with my decision.”

Roman Karlin, 26, immigrated to Israel in 2019 from Rosario, also in Argentina. Karlin told JNS he was inspired to move to Israel after attending a year-long youth study program in Israel at the age of 18. 

“I realized I wanted to live here and also to serve in the army. I felt I wanted to contribute to the country as much as I could, and that I wanted to give back some of what the country has given me,” he told JNS.

Upon arrival, he spent six months learning Hebrew in Jerusalem, before joining an elite Paratrooper Brigade unit in 2020 as a lone soldier.

He completed his army service at the end of 2022 but was called in for his first reserve duty stint just months later following the Oct. 7 massacre. Karlin spent 55 days in Gaza fighting against Hamas in Beit Hanoun, Jabalia and Gaza City, which he said was extremely difficult.

“It was hard, but I knew my mission was to protect Israel. I knew this was necessary to guarantee Israel’s security and to fight terror. That is why I made aliyah, to protect the place that I love,” he said, adding, “This is not a war we chose, but it is one we are forced to fight.”

In the midst of the war, on Dec. 9, while on leave, Roman decided to propose to his girlfriend Daniela, an immigrant from Bahía Blanca, Argentina. The couple has not set a date.

In January, Karlin was discharged from reserve duty (“for now,” he said), and returned to his job as a store manager in Tel Aviv.

Karlin feels Israel’s top priority must be to secure the release of the hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

“The most important thing is to bring back the hostages ASAP. The Rafah operation will speed things up," he said, referring to Gaza's southernmost city, Hamas's last stronghold in the Strip. "There is still work to do [fighting against terrorists] in the south of the country and in the north. But we must bring back the hostages. I'm always hoping for the best,” he said.

All three new immigrants expressed gratitude to the IFCJ for providing them with the support they needed from the minute they started the aliyah process, through arrival and integration into society and throughout their army service.

IFCJ President Yael Eckstein told JNS, “Throughout Israel's modern history, our nation's miraculous growth can be credited in large part to the successful ingathering of the Jewish people from all corners of the world, something the IFCJ is very proud and honored to be a part of.”

She added that “today, as our country faces one of its darkest and most challenging hours, the spirit of selfless love for Israel being put forth by these soldiers who are serving their new homeland, is something that is deeply inspiring and proves that whatever difficulties we face, the bond between our people and our land remains as strong as ever.” 


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