The Olim who made Aliyah during the War

Leaving loved ones and familiar settings behind, these new immigrants from the U.S. courageously joined the IDF as lone soldiers; Amid war, they took brief reserves leaves to settle into their new homeland and selflessly chose to forsake their previous lives to aid in the IDF's victory
The October 7 attack on Israel prompted a number of American Jews to courageously leave their careers and families to make Aliyah to Israel and join the war effort. This was facilitated by Nefesh B’Nefesh, in partnership with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA.
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Yehuda Benhamu (25) was born and raised in New York to American Jewish parents. He was educated in a Zionist home, and at the age of 18 came to Israel to study at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. After a year and a half, he decided to volunteer in the IDF as a lone soldier, as part of the FIDF-Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program. He completed his military service as a combat soldier in the Paratroopers brigade. Following his release, he returned to the US to study psychology.
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יהודה בן חמו לצד אשתו שירה. יצא לרגע מהמילואים כדי להפוך לאזרח ישראלי באופן רשמי
יהודה בן חמו לצד אשתו שירה. יצא לרגע מהמילואים כדי להפוך לאזרח ישראלי באופן רשמי
Yehuda Benhamu and wife shira
(Photo: Yehuda Benhamu)
After completing his degree, he returned to Israel and met his wife, Shira, an American who made Aliyah with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh a few years prior. After meeting, Yehuda began the process of making Aliyah. The two wed last summer, and they were visiting family in New York during the Sukkot holiday when the war broke out.
Following initial reports of the attack, Yehuda decided to leave everything behind and come back to Israel to serve with his teammates. He boarded a rescue flight from Athens with around 400 other reservists and made his way to Israel. Initially, due to issues with his registration, he was not able to enlist in the reserves. Yet Yehuda was adamant and managed to enlist, and he has since been serving in the West Bank region. During this time, Yehuda received the news that his Aliyah process had been approved.
Yehuda received special permission from his commanders to go to the Population and Immigration Authority office to receive his ID as an official citizen of the State of Israel. From there he returned directly to base to continue defending the country alongside his friends. “The decision to come to Israel to enlist was never a question,” said Yehuda proudly after finishing a late-night shift. “The only questions I had were: What’s the fastest way to get to Israel, when do I get in uniform, and where do I report to?”
He recalled that on Simchat Torah, the day of the attack, “My brother-in-law and I heard the news from Israel while we were walking down the street. Someone stopped the car and said there was a war in Israel. We ran home and immediately went online to get as much information about the situation. To know that my country is under threat is a terrible feeling, and I just wanted to get there and fight for it alongside my friends. The following day my brother-in-law was on an emergency flight to Israel and is now serving in Gaza. I flew one day later, and two days later my wife followed.”
Yehuda speaks passionately and with a sense of mission. When asked if he was afraid of leaving his home to come to a country that is under attack, he laughed, commenting, “We’re fighters, aren’t we? That’s our job. As soon as there is a threat to your home, you do everything you can to protect it. I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary that someone else under attack wouldn’t do. It’s a situation where there’s no room to second guess; you just pick yourself up and go. There were 400 others like me who returned for the same exact reasons.”
The couple’s families and friends tried to convince them to stay in the US until tensions cleared, but the desire to come to Israel overcame all fears.
“We returned to the reserves with the stamp that we’re Israelis”
We spoke with Andrew Silberman (21) and Ezra Ruderman (23) during a quick break after spending a month and a half in the field. Both men made Aliyah to Israel together in 2021 and enlisted in the IDF as lone soldiers. They are roommates in Herzliya and have recently both officially received their Aliyah certificates.
Andrew is originally from Chicago and enlisted in the Paratroopers brigade, and Ezra is from Texas and served as a military officer in the Kfir brigade. Both completed their service last summer. Andrew, who began his Aliyah process immediately upon his release, said, “When the war broke out on Simchat Torah, I was visiting family in the US. After I returned from synagogue, I immediately turned on my phone and discovered that a good friend in my unit, Benjamin Lev, may he rest in peace, was killed in the war in the battle of Kfar Aza on October 7. As far as I was concerned, it was no longer a question – as a Jew, who always dreamed of being a soldier in the IDF, and as a recently released soldier – I was returning to Israel.
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אנדרו סילברמן ועזרא רודרמן
אנדרו סילברמן ועזרא רודרמן
Andrew Silberman and Ezra Ruderman
(Photo: Andrew Silberman)
Despite protests and attempts to delay his departure, he left for Israel. “My mom wanted me to stay a little longer,” he recalled. “We had a Bar Mitzvah on Shmini Atzeret, but I was already on my way to Israel. I felt that I couldn’t stay there anymore, when I didn’t know what was happening with my friends or be together with them. When I updated my family about my friend who was killed, and later learned the full story about the war, everyone understood the magnitude of the situation and how important it was for me to go back to Israel to serve.”
“Instead of attending the family event, I left despite having no clarity on what I was flying into. I told myself, like any other soldier who is able, there is no reason why I would not find somewhere to help in this war. But apparently, I was in a problematic situation: My team was still in active duty, and I had not yet been assigned to the reserves, nor did I have an ID or Aliyah certificate. However, I knew that things would work out and that they would find me a place to serve. At first, I was sent to the Nahal brigade in the reserves. Even if I was far from the other members of the unit, I was happy that I could play a part in defending my country.”
Andrew is currently stationed with the Nahal patrol in the north of Israel. His friend, Ezra, is also in the North in the Kfir brigade. On November 12, both completed their official Aliyah to Israel together at the offices of the Population and Immigration Authority in Holon. “It was quick, and we returned to the North with the stamp that we’re Israelis,” Andrew said with a smile. “Ezra and I were talking to each other about how we had our first break after 30 days in the field. When I fight side by side in the war with soldiers from Israel and abroad in defense of our country and homeland, this is the best way to show that I deserve the citizenship.”
“Receiving the Aliyah certificate and my Israeli ID, in the middle of the war, is the most significant thing I could have done at this point in my life. Every soldier, especially an American, has a choice of where to go in life – and I know that if I were to go to university I would feel out of place and stuck. Here in the war, every moment I feel that I made the right decision. I also feel the support of everyone – family, friends, as well as the entire Jewish nation. Everyone wants to help, sometimes just because I’m in uniform. You really feel how the people of Israel have rallied together, even those who are from far away.”

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תמונה של יעל סימון מהשירות הצבאי
תמונה של יעל סימון מהשירות הצבאי
Yael Simon during her service
(Photo: Yael Simon)
Ezra Ruderman was at home in Herzliya on October 7. “I saw myself as someone who’s in the worst possible situation during the war. I hadn’t been asked to join the reserves yet, I hadn’t yet become an official citizen, and my teammates were still in active duty. But I didn’t give up. Without knowing exactly what was happening, I immediately packed a bag and left. I was assigned to one of the units in Kfir. At first, they wanted to kick me out because I wasn’t officially registered as a soldier, but I told them, ‘I’m not leaving. There’s a war here and there’s no way I’m not serving my country.’ After two weeks I was able to join my team in active duty. I left for a few hours one afternoon and returned with the official certificate of citizenship,” he shared proudly.

“This is my home, my heart is here”

Yael Simon (26) grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2015, she came alone to study at a seminary in Jerusalem and fell in love with Israel. She said, “The strength of Israel and the warm embrace of Israelis moved me from the first second, and I felt that this is where I was going to live and raise my children.”
In 2018, when Yael was 21 years old, she decided to enlist in the IDF as a lone soldier, as part of the FIDF-Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program, and served as an infantry instructor. “It was an amazing and empowering experience for me, and I am proud that when my future children ask me what I did in the army, I will be able to tell them and be a role model for them.”
After her release from the IDF, Yael decided to return to the US and begin a degree in neuroscience at Columbia University, which she graduated in May of this year. “The dream of making Aliyah and living in Israel did not die and was always in my thoughts,” she emphasized. She began the Aliyah process just a few months ago. At the onset of the war, she received a call from her officer, and Yael knew what she had to do: Find every possible way to expedite her Aliyah date and join the reserves. And that’s what she did.
“When I heard the news from Israel, it was immediately clear to me that this was the plan – to get to Israel as soon as possible and give my country everything I have,” she explains. “This is my home. Here I learned how to protect the country in the best way possible. Here I feel more secure than in any other country in the world, especially given the rising Antisemitism. In America, as a Jew, you always feel like a bystander, but I want to be in the field, not just in my thoughts but physically, and I can only do this in Israel. That’s why I left everything and came to join the efforts of the people of Israel, with the goal of protecting our country and ensuring that we will have a home and a nation – because this is ultimately all that we have, no matter what anyone says.”
About a month ago, on October 31, Yael made Aliyah to Israel and arrived at her new home in Tel Aviv, where she was waiting to be assigned to the reservists so that she could assist the IDF. My role in active duty was to train young men on how to operate defense equipment, and the plan was to bring all the skills and tools that I gained in my service and contribute as much as I could to our collective goal of defeating the enemy and bringing peace to the State of Israel and its citizens.”
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יעל סימון עם הדגל
יעל סימון עם הדגל
Yael Simon and friends displaying the Israeli flag
(Photo: Yael Simon)
Yael is now waiting for the call from her officer for further orders. “After all, this is what I came to do, to serve. In the meantime, I am finishing a medics course with United Hatzalah, volunteering with Magen David Adom with blood donations, assisting families from the South and collecting donations for soldiers. There is a family here from the town of Netivot that I adopted. They were evacuated to Tel Aviv, and I am doing everything I can to help them.”
Yael also has plans to study medicine in Tel Aviv or Be’er Sheva, which will have to wait until the end of the war, even though her family and friends want her in the US. “They are afraid, but they understand that my heart is here, and nothing will take me from here, so they are proud of me. I have a lot of faith in God and a lot of confidence in our soldiers who know how to do the job, and because of these things we’re invincible. True, there are victims we hear about in the news, but I have no reason to be afraid. Here, at home, I feel the safest.”
All of these young individuals made Aliyah to Israel through Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA. Approximately 5,000 lone soldiers from around the world are currently serving in the IDF active duty and reserves. “These are young men and women who decided to leave their routines, their family, friends, and even academic and career opportunities, in order to make Aliyah to Israel alone and enlist in the IDF to fulfill a significant military service,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Through “Operation Hug,” a new initiative by Nefesh B’Nefesh, JNF-USA, and Friends of the IDF (FIDF), parents of lone soldiers are able to come to Israel from around the world on El Al flights and meet their loved ones for the first time since the beginning of the war.
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