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Tucson’s lone IDF soldiers elicit pride and prayers at home

Lone soldier Stephen Segal (in purple beret)

The firing of missiles from Gaza into Israel and Israel’s Nov. 14 killing of Ahmed Jabari, the chief of Hamas’ military wing, initiated the call-up of Israel Defense Forces’ reserves. The situation escalated over the following week, and since Nov. 21, a precarious cease-fire has taken hold. For members of the Tucson Jewish community, the turmoil in Israel brought to mind at least four local lone IDF soldiers, whose parents were interviewed by the AJP on Nov. 16.

“Like every Jewish family in town, we’re praying for all of Israel and hope that God watches over all our soldiers,” Jami Gan told the AJP. Max, 22, the son of Jami and Scott Gan, is one of Tucson’s lone soldiers.

While preparing for her Nov. 29 IDF draft date, 18-year-old Shoham Ozeri, the daughter of Nancy and Tidi Ozeri, has been living on Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak. “Historically the kibbutz, about a mile from the Gaza border, never suffered a missile attack until early October,” said Nancy Ozeri. “It’s been ongoing in the southern part of Israel since then. Just now Israel is retaliating.”

On Nov. 16 Shoham went to stay with her aunt in Bat Hefer, north of Tel Aviv.  “For now it’s a safe place. It’s hard to know what’s going to happen,” said Ozeri. “As a parent I now understand what my mom went through when I was in Tel Aviv during the first Gulf War in 1991. I was matter-of-factly talking to my parents from a ‘safe room,’ which was our bedroom, while hearing [incoming] missiles.”

Ozeri’s mother didn’t tell her “to pack up my bags and leave, but she was probably thinking it. I didn’t feel in any danger,” said Ozeri. “That’s the naive sense of immortality in youth. Israel’s in for a rough time now. It’s ultimately going to be okay, but I’m still concerned.”

Stephen Segal, 24, a lone soldier in the elite IDF Givati Brigade, spoke with his father, Dr. Robert Segal, on Nov. 15. “All I know is he and his whole brigade have been on alert. Their base is the closest to Gaza. If there’s an incursion into Gaza they will be one of the first among four other brigades to go in. That’s their job,” explained Segal, adding that his son is “a sharpshooter. He’s a combat soldier. He’s fully trained.”

When Stephen received his purple beret, becoming “a warrior in the Givati Brigade a few months ago,” Segal was there for the ceremony that followed Stephen’s participation in a grueling 25-mile march, carrying 110 pounds in a backpack. “He’s tough as nails,” said Segal. His wife, Judge Anne Segal, told the AJP, “We’re real proud of him.”

For Marlene Abraham and her husband, Bill, it’s a waiting game for their daughter, Allison, another lone soldier. “Ironically, Allison just arrived in New York to see her new nephew and then come here for Thanksgiving,” said Abraham. “She’ll return to Israel in the beginning of December.” The couple’s middle son, David, who’s now in a master’s program at Columbia University, was a commander in the IDF tank division and is still in the reserves.

“We’re hoping and praying that he will not be called up,” said Abraham. “We’re just praying for everyone in Israel to be safe.”

Ozeri, taking one day at a time, said, “Anything can happen anywhere. I lived through the first Gulf War in Israel. A year later, my sister Sue Ben-Asher Newton, a medivac flight nurse, was killed in a helicopter crash near Tucson.”