U.S. Family Lays 'Lone Soldier' Son to Rest in Israel

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 4, 2006

JERUSALEM, Aug. 3 -- Three weeks ago, 21-year-old Staff Sgt. Michael Levin was back with his family in the Philadelphia suburbs, hanging out with his twin sister and making plans to study medicine after he finished his tour with the Israeli military this fall.

When war erupted between Israel and Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon, Levin cut short his home leave and joined his paratroop unit on Israel's northern border.

Thursday afternoon, Levin's twin sister, Dara, stood over a hole in the ground on a pine-covered hillside at Israel's national military cemetery and tossed a handful of ocher clay atop her brother's wooden coffin.

Levin was killed Tuesday, the 21st day of the war, when Hezbollah fighters fired an artillery shell into the house his unit had commandeered as an observation post in the southern Lebanon town of Aita al-Shaab. Another Israeli soldier and an officer also died.

In life, Levin was considered a "lone soldier" -- the melancholy moniker Israel gives foreign-born soldiers who come to the country without their families, often with the sole purpose of serving in the military.

In death, his adopted Israeli families pressed tight around his grave at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem under a searing afternoon sun, attempting to console the American family he'd left behind to pursue his ambition of fighting for the Jewish state.

Dozens of soldiers in the maroon berets of Levin's paratroop brigade stood not at attention but in tearful embraces as they circled his parents and two sisters.

Hundreds of heads -- in yarmulkes, in black top hats, in straw bonnets, in an NYPD baseball cap -- surged toward his sobbing family as the Jewish graveside service ended.

"I'm your brother's friend from Zimbabwe," one soldier told a weeping Dara Levin.

"Your brother was a hero," said a youth in a T-shirt and baggy pants who had never met Levin but -- like many of those attending Thursday's funeral -- felt compelled to show support for the foreign family that had given up their son to Israel.

Of the 41 Israeli soldiers who have died in the conflict with Hezbollah, three have been foreign-born soldiers who came to Israel without their families. In addition to Levin, an Australian and a Ukrainian soldier have been killed. Ilan Grapel from Queens, N.Y., was among the soldiers wounded on the day Levin was killed.

Israeli immigration and military officials estimate that about 120 Americans are among the 2,300 lone soldiers serving in the Israeli military.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company