Meet Leor: Sharpshooter, Combat Commander and Lone Soldier
Sean Carmeli Scholarship recipient Leor Bareli. Photo credit: Michal Roche Ben Ami.
In 2011, when Leor Bareli joined an IDF combat unit as a new immigrant and lone soldier, she sometimes had second thoughts. She had left a comfortable life in New York for daily struggles. “I had to cope with the physical stress of combat, with language and cultural obstacles, and with overwhelming feelings of loneliness and regret,” Leor recounts. “But with the help of my remarkably supportive comrades and superiors,” she continues, “I grew more confident and began to find my place.”
Now, Leor is getting another supportive boost as one of 13 beneficiaries of the Sean Carmeli Scholarship Fund for Lone Soldiers at TAU. The inaugural group of student recipients hails from a number of countries from around the world, including the United States, Russia, Argentina, Mexico, France and Ukraine.
The scholarship fund commemorates Sean Carmeli, a lone soldier who fell during Operation Protective Edge. It was established this year by Tel Aviv University’s Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy, headed by Prof. Yossi Shain, in cooperation with the Carmeli family.
Pursuing a career in medicine
Like many lone soldiers who finish their army service, when Leor was released from the IDF she suddenly found herself all alone once again. She had been the first female commander and first female combat soldier to enter the new Homefront Command battalion for Search and Rescue, Gdud Ram. She had commanded 30 soldiers – men and women – during basic training and afterward during missions. “It was an amazing, building experience,” says Leor, “but once it was over, I began my new immigrant struggles all over again. In the army, they take care of everything – food, clothing, a roof over your head, and more. As a free citizen, I had to find a new framework.”
Leor always dreamed of entering the world of science and medicine, a dream she had put on hold after her life-changing decision to move to Israel. Now she is finishing up a Bsc in Medical Science at TAU, a joint program of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences that prepares students for either medical studies or graduate programs in biomedical research. On top of a rigorous course load, she also volunteers. She is a “Big Sister” to lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF and participates in TAU programs for coexistence between secular and ultra-orthodox Jews, and between Arabs and Jews.
“This is a tough year in my studies – I’ve just turned in the first of 4 research projects needed to finish my degree,” says Leor. “The Sean Carmeli Scholarship helps me concentrate on excelling in my schoolwork without having to deal with external pressures. I want to tell the kind donors who contributed to the Sean Carmeli Fund: ‘Thank you. I feel there are so many opportunities to contribute to Israel and you are helping me and other former lone soldiers find our path.’”
Perpetuating the spirit of giving
The late Sean Carmeli was born in 1993 in Texas. Deeply connected to Israel and Zionism, he made aliyah on his own at age 16 and two years later was drafted into the IDF as a lone soldier. Sean lost his life on July 20, 2014, during an intense battle in Gaza. Some 40,000 people attended Sean’s funeral to pay final respects to a lone soldier who sacrificed his life for what he believed in.
The Sean Carmeli Fund was established to recognize and reward the special men and women, like Sean, who serve in the IDF without parents in Israel to support them. A lone soldier can be orphaned, abandoned by his/her family, a new immigrant or an overseas volunteer. In 2015, over 6,000 lone soldiers were serving in the IDF, the majority foreign born.
After these young people complete their army service – many with distinction – they’re still on their own as they forge their educational and career paths. The Sean Carmeli Fund, raised through donations, helps them to succeed by providing comprehensive scholarships to study at Tel Aviv University.
“Sean had a generosity of spirit and an unwavering commitment to doing good in this world,” says Justin Jalil, Director of International Development at TAU’s Hartog School, and himself a former lone soldier who served alongside Sean Carmeli. “He would have been proud to know that we’re now helping other lone soldiers pursue higher education in Israel in his name.”