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Max Long

Executive Director

When I made Aliyah, I expected to face my biggest challenge yet. I moved to Israel with no family, no Hebrew, and no understanding of the strong Israeli culture I’d be soon thrust into. But I had a goal: to enlist into the Israel Defense Forces. Luckily, I was able to serve as a Lone Soldier in the Special Forces unit, Yahalom. I was the only Lone Soldier on a team of Israelis, which was a humbling yet challenging experience. The connections I formed with my teammates helped me learn Hebrew and become fully immersed in Israeli culture. Through them, I also learned how truly unique and profound their pre-army experiences were in Poland. I felt I was missing a valuable and transformative experience that my peers had. I knew I would benefit from a Masa to Poland, so after my service, I decided to join one as a counselor with American high school students.

In Poland, standing on the tracks in Auschwitz, I realized that making Aliyah to the Land of Israel was the dream for many of the victims who perished in the Holocaust. To many, this dream was their will to live, but that dream was taken from them. Being in Auschwitz as a released IDF soldier with a group of fellow Jews, I felt immense pride. In that moment, we represented the strength of the Jewish people to persevere and never give up. I was living the dream of those that were murdered on the grounds I was standing. I knew that having an experience like this prior to enlisting to the IDF is so important. When the hardships of being a soldier set in, this experience acts as an anchor, reminding soldiers what they are fighting for.

While my military experience had its’ ups and downs, the one point of consistency was my community. We were a community of Lone Soldiers from the Northeast region of the United States. Over the three years we were together, our group became a family. In Israel, we supported one another throughout the entirety of our service and after. The connection I have to my lone soldier family is unlike any other and I hope to imbue my participants with the same feeling.