Treasure Valley soldier is in the Israeli army. His brother is in the Navy.
Some of the guys in the Israeli Defense Force’s Golani Brigade look at Joshua Boone like he’s crazy.
And maybe he is.
“They say, ‘You lived in America, why are you here? You’re 25 years old. You only get to sleep four hours a night. You’re always moving and running and hiking,’” Joshua said. “Some days it sucks. And then I remember why.”
It’s because of something his father, Idaho State Police Sgt. Robert Boone, always said: Live as defenders of the weak and protectors of the poor.
It’s because his ancestors fled persecution and poverty in Russia to come to America in the early 1900s to farm and practice their Jewish faith without retribution or consequence.
It’s because he’s not going to stand aside while his friends die in a Middle Eastern conflict that has been been a controversial part of Israel’s story since it was founded in 1948. That danger is real. On Friday, hundreds of Palestinians converged on the Gaza Strip’s border fence with Israel in one of the most violent incidents in five weeks of protests, according to The Associated Press. Three Palestinians were killed.
Joshua, who attended Mountain View High School, is one of about 2,500 people — and the only Idahoan — serving as what’s known as a Lone Soldier in the IDF. People from all over the world abandon the familiar to join Israel’s military to defend their Jewish homeland.
“From what all of our people have gone through, in the Holocaust and what we went through in Russia, there’s a point where it’s like, you know what, I’m going to do my part,” Joshua said. “Because evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”
Joshua’s journey to become a sniper in the IDF was full of setbacks. The first time he traveled to Israel at age 19 and applied for the military in 2012, Joshua was rejected because the family could not prove its Jewish lineage through his mother’s line. To meet Israeli requirements, he went through a formal Jewish conversion process at Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, even though he has been a member of Jewish faith all his life.
Even that wasn’t enough to be accepted. The IDF said Joshua had to spend time within the Jewish community in Idaho for about a year before being considered.
Without the assurance that he would be able to join, Joshua made the last of four trips to Israel in 2016.
“I said, ‘This is my dream; this is my goal. I’m going to have one last shot,’” Joshua said through a shaky telephone line from Israel. “I bought a one-way ticket, and this time, it worked out. And here I am.”
A sense of service
Don’t be a wolf; be a protector of sheep.
All three Boone brothers, Joshua, Jacob and Jordan, are prepared to live — and die — by these words.
Joshua, 25, has about eight more months in his one-and-half-year contract with the IDF. He is working on his Hebrew language skills so he can become an officer in the Israeli military or an Israeli police officer and stay even longer.
Jacob, 20, enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was just 17. He is training to become a combat medic.
“For both of us, it was something we wanted to do since we were younger,” Jacob said. “I love America. This is where I was born and raised, and I wanted to do something to try to serve my country. I felt like I was called to this military.”
And Jordan, 18, is preparing to study criminal justice at Boise State University after he graduates from Vallivue High in May. He ultimately hopes to become a police officer.
“I think of it as there’s different categories of what you can protect,” Jordan said. “There’s your backyard, your country and your true homeland. I’ve got one brother defending our true homeland. I’ve got one brother defending our country, and my plan is to be defending the streets back home.”
Their sense of service is a thread that weaves through their family. Their grandfather, a U.S. Air Force veteran who died in 2011, urged Joshua to not give up on his dream of serving Israel. Their father is a detective for the Idaho State Police.
Then there is the devotion of their mother, Stacey Singh, who taught the boys from a young age that their deep reverence and commitment to the United States and to their Jewish homeland aren’t competing ideals. She home-schooled the boys when they were young, and she didn’t shy away from teaching the painful parts of the Jewish faith’s past, including the Holocaust.
With the help of the Friends of the IDF, a nonprofit that financially and emotionally supports Lone Soldiers and other programs, Joshua was able to fly home for two weeks and surprise his family for Passover, which began March 30. It was the first time all three boys had been under Singh’s Nampa roof in more than a year.
“I believe that it’s just inherent to have this Jewish soul, as I call it,” Singh said. “It was just super important that my children understand the importance of Israel and that it is our heart’s home. We love America, too. We’re all very patriotic.”
It wasn’t unusual for Joshua to have joined Israel’s military, Signh said.
“It wasn’t unusual at all, it was natural,” she said. “It also wasn’t unusual that my other son wanted to join the U.S. Navy. That was also natural because (both countries are) really a part of our hearts.”
To Maj. Gen. Meir Klifi-Amir, becoming a Lone Soldier is one of the most difficult decisions a young person can make. Klifi served for 33 years in the IDF, side by side with Lone Soldiers, and served as the military secretary to Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu. He is the CEO and national director for the Friends of the IDF.
“They know, their parents know, that this one of the most complicated areas in the world,” he said. “When we are talking about security, it’s not an easy area to live. The Lone Soldiers are a very important part of the IDF. For us it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the meaning behind these kinds of decisions they are making.”
The long process of joining the IDF
Longtime Boise Rabbi Dan Fink has helped half a dozen people go through the arduous process to gain Israeli citizenship.
None had a more difficult time than Joshua.
“I have seen people rejected for the first go-around and gave up,” Fink said. “Each time he got rejected, in a way, it only firmed up his determination.”
The family had approached Fink to write a letter of recommendation when Josh first applied to join the IDF. The Law of Return, enacted by Israel’s Parliament in 1950, declares the right of every Jewish person to immediately gain citizenship in Israel.
But Joshua ran into a catch: What does it mean to be Jewish? Who qualifies?
“You have to be able to prove to the bureaucracy, to the powers that be, that you are Jewish,” Fink said. “And dealing with the bureaucracy and the powers that be in Israel is like dealing with the bureaucracy and the powers that be everywhere, which is to say they’re not terribly efficient and they set up roadblocks. They make it challenging.”
Because the family couldn’t provide enough information on Jewish its lineage through his mother’s line, Joshua was rejected.
“Here you have somebody who is willing to risk his life, literally, he was willing to put his life on the line for the Jewish state of Israel and the Jewish state of Israel is questioning, are you really Jewish?” Fink said.
So Fink and the family developed plan B — Joshua’s formal conversion to the Jewish faith.
During the conversion, Fink said, Joshua read. Joshua studied. He become intimately involved in the Jewish community in Boise.
And he never gave up.
“I think it’s like a homing device,” Singh said. “You know how pigeons always know where home is? I think it’s just in you. It’s something that can’t be explained other than it’s spiritual.”
To understand Joshua’s call to service — and his dogged determination — a person must understand a sense of history, Fink said.
Until 1948 — three years after the end of the systematic murder of two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population during the Holocaust — the Jewish people did not have a country, a place to call their own, Fink said. They live scattered all over the world.
“(History) was so frequently disastrous for us,” Fink said. “We were treated so badly. There was murder, there was forced conversion. And for all those 2,000 years, through all the suffering and the pain and the insecurity of not being able to control your own destiny, which is what it was to be a Jew, your existence was to be a guest in another country.”
Talking about the consequences of serving as a sniper in another country to a stranger isn’t something that comes easy to Joshua, especially as tension within the region continues to amplify.
With family, it’s different.
“Jacob and I had a talk about it when I was home,” Joshua said. “The whole area is about to explode with Syria and everything else. We got a job to do, and we’ll make it out alright.”
Because it’s not about Joshua. It’s about protecting Israel and protecting his brothers in arms.
Nothing more, nothing less.