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Ari Kalker '98

Name
Ari 
 
Hometown
Hillcrest 
 
What year did you graduate YHT?
I graduated in 1998. I was in the first class to go all the way from kindergarten through 8th grade.  
 
Do you have a favorite YHT memory?
My favorite memory is winning the 7th grade science fair with Ms. Kopman.
 
We did a really cool project on aerodynamics. Ms. Kopman's class was hard and I probably hated it at the time but in hindsight she made me fall in love with science. I trained as an engineer and the way she taught us to approach and break apart problems using the scientific method -- propose a solution, test it, iterate, etc. -- I still use that way of looking at things today.  She and Mrs. Siegel, our social studies teacher, really stood out for clearly loving what they taught.  
 
You are a founder and current director at The Lone Solder Center In Memory of Michael Levin. How did that come about?
I went to Israel "for the year" after high school and never left. I made aliyah, drafted for the IDF in 2004, and served until 2006 in the special forces. As the only chayal boded and English speaker in my division, I experienced what was then common for lone soldiers: loneliness on weekends, reliance on friends for places to go during free time, and -- since this was before social media was a thing -- the only people you knew were whatever few other lone soldiers you happened to meet by accident somewhere.
 
One of the few lone soldiers I did know was a guy named Michael Levin. He was that friend who is always upbeat no matter what is going on. He served as a paratrooper and, just a couple of days after returning from visiting his family in Philadelphia, was killed fighting in Lebanon. I was also fighting there at the time but as soon as I had an opportunity, after the war, I got together with some of his mutual friends. One of the people who joined us was a guy named Tziki Oud, who was like a father-figure to lone soldiers. At that meeting, Tziki reminded us that it was Michael's dream to create a place where lone soldiers could come to hang out together and watch the Super Bowl because, back then, you had to be creative to find a place to watch the game in Israel. Tziki charged us with that mission.
 
At the time, we naively thought, "how hard can this be?"  We all pulled out whatever money we had in our pocket -- I remember distinctly that it was 386 shekels all together from the 5 of us -- and we walked down to Emek, found some lone soldiers, and took them out to eat at Pizza Sababa. That's really how this started back in 2008.
 
Since then, I finished my degree and found a job but always kept working on the Lone Soldier Center on the side. We started with counseling and advising services because that's the thing lone soldiers don't have that Israeli soldiers organically do have. We built up counseling volunteers, starting getting organized, and registered as a nonprofit. We hired Tziki as our first employee, which worked out great because he knew the system and bureaucracy inside and out. Counseling is still our bread and butter, but we've expanded to helping build social networks through things like Shabbat dinners, barbecues, and offering housing for lone soldiers.
 
I only began working for the Lone Soldier Center full time two years ago. We now help 3,500 lone soldiers each year, from all different walks of life. We have found that the people who use our services are more likely to become officers and commanders in the IDF and to gain entrance to the parts of the army that are harder to get in.   
 
How can YHT families get involved in The Lone Soldier Center?
If you're going to be in Israel, email me at: ari@lonesoldiercenter.com. Among other things, you can come for (and, if possible, sponsor) a Shabbat dinner. You'll be inspired by some of the most idealistic and inspiring people you'll ever meet.