December is one of the coldest months in Paris. But, for three families, December was filled with extra light and warmth. Over Hanukkah, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) lone soldiers Samuel Sebban, Shannon Touil and Nathan Marciano paid a surprise visit to their families with the support of Yahad: Untied for Israel’s Soldiers.
“I feel like I am going to cry,” said Touil as she approached her little brother’s and sister’s school. “It is a bit overwhelming.”
But when the siblings saw each other they embraced with tremendous love. She pulled out presents for the little ones – IDF T-shirts – and they smiled and laughed.
“I missed you,” said the little brother. “What a surprise.”
The soldiers’ visit was sponsored by Gladys Tibi, President of Libi Fund France organization, who has been offering such a trip for lone soldiers for nearly 30 years. The visit is important for lone soldiers who are far from family, but also for the French Jewish community, according to Anna Oliel, who helps coordinate donations for Yahad.
“The French Jewish community loves Israel and Israeli soldiers,” said Oliel.
The soldiers visited a Jewish days school where they were met with tremendous warmth. The students sang Hebrew songs.
“There was so much pride,” said Oliel. “It was just amazing.”
Many of Israel’s lone soldiers come from France. A 2016 report by the IDF found French citizens comprise around 45 percent of the total foreign volunteers to the IDF, compared to 29 percent from the US and 5 percent from the UK. Most of the volunteers formally enlist after their initial service.
“The staff at Yahad have huge hearts,” said Oliel. “It is all for the soldiers.”
Soldier Sebban’s family was very grateful for that. When Sebban’s mother saw her son, she broke down in tears, started jumping up and down and hugging him. Marciano’s called her son a tzaddik [righteous person], and said she was so happy.
“I am a proud and happy mother,” said Sebban’s mom. “It is a difficult choice to let your child enlist in the IDF, but a beautiful one.”