Although she grew up in Old Bridge, Lt. Amanda Tzalmon developed a strong connection to Israel early in life through her Israeli-born father and trips to visit relatives.
By the time she graduated Old Bridge High School, she knew she wanted to make that connection permanent.
Now 24, Tzalmon is a member of the Israel Defense Forces, where her duties include helping other “lone soldiers” — those without family in Israel — feel welcome.
“I love what I do,” she said in a phone interview from the New York offices of Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces. “As a lone soldier myself, I received a lot of help when I went in the army and a lot when I made aliya. I feel I should give back to the community and help those who need it. ”
Tzalmon was among a group of IDF members invited to attend the March 12 annual gala of the FDIF at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan, which raised $27 million.
Now a Jerusalem resident, Tzalmon grew up as part of Congregation Beth Ohr in Old Bridge, where her parents, Shlomo and Annette, and younger brother, Michael, still live.
She recalled childhood visits to her aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandmother in Israel.
“At the age of 14 my parents first let me fly to Israel by myself, and I pretty much fell in love with the country, with its people, the lifestyle,” said Tzalmon. “I knew I wanted to make aliya. The minute I came back I told my parents.”
While her father, who came to New York at age 22, was somewhat baffled by his daughter’s decision, Tzalmon said, her parents have been supportive.
During her senior year of high school, she applied for a preparatory program at The Hebrew University. On July 7, 2007, she boarded a plane for the Jewish state.
“That first year was very hard because I didn’t speak any Hebrew,” said Tzalmon, who now speaks English with a slight Israeli accent. “Although my father is Israeli, he didn’t speak Hebrew at home because he wanted us to capture the American lifestyle. I was just about to make my decision to come back to the United States when I received a draft letter from the IDF.”
Lone soldiers like her receive a range of support and benefits, including financial assistance, help with housing, and time to visit family abroad. Four years after her call-up, Tzalmon is in charge of human services at the Jerusalem recruiting office.
“Even before I was drafted, it was very important to me to get a specific job where I could help others like myself,” said Tzalmon, who is considering making the military a career.
In her position, Tzalmon meets lone soldiers’ needs, from finding a place for them to spend Shabbat to giving them time off during a family crisis. Those efforts are both humanitarian and practical.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want people in their position to have what’s happening at home affect their job,” she said. “We want them to have a clear mind.”
“The Israeli soldier stands on the razor’s edge of the Western World’s defense against the global jihad,” said gala chair Arthur Stark of Livingston. “We have a moral obligation to show them our gratitude for the personal sacrifices they make.”