David was at his hometown synagogue in Edison, New Jersey on Saturday, when war broke out in Israel. Less than 48 hours later, he was on a plane headed to Europe where he would meet up with an Israeli military flight collecting Americans and other soldiers from abroad.
The Israel Defense Force has called up 300,000 reservists after the Hamas terrorist attacks, some of whom are Americans who live or have lived in Israel. David is one of them. He spoke with Task & Purpose about the call-up and leaving behind his family in the US as he waited for a military charter to Israel in Athens, Greece.
David — a pseudonym Task & Purpose is using for the soldier because his family remains in the US — found out about the attacks later than most because he observes Shabbat. Jews who practice Shabbat use no technology from Friday night until sundown on Saturday, including TVs or phones. As a result, David was both surprised and immediately worried when his Rabbi approached him while in Temple last Saturday and told him to go home and check his messages.
He left the synagogue quickly and headed to his parent’s home in pouring rain. Though he lives full time in Israel, David had brought his wife and 10-week-old daughter to Edison to visit his parents during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
At home, his wife and parents were also offline for news or social media, but David’s mother told Task & Purpose she knew something was wrong from his serious tone when he came back early from Temple.
“He just said ‘we don’t understand what’s going on in Israel’;” David’s mother recalled. Even when Israel is “seemingly calm, it’s never really calm,” she thought to herself. “I don’t think anybody was expecting this.”
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Hamas and Islamic Jihad-backed militants had infiltrated the country by crossing over from Gaza, the strip of land where close to two million Palestinians live on the West coast of Israel. Through Tuesday, more than 1,000 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed in the eruption of violence.
Within hours, Israel had declared itself at war and the call-up of reservists was underway.
“As soon as I really saw that video of the children that were taken hostage, I just worked on finding a flight,” he said.
Though he grew up in New Jersey, graduating from high school there, David, 24, works in high tech in Israel. Seven years ago, he made aliyah, the process in which Jews who live abroad are guaranteed citizenship in Israel.
“I just felt it was the right thing,” he said about choosing to move from the US.
After gaining citizenship, David served a year and a half in the Israel Defense Forces, a near-universal requirement for the thousands of Jews from across the world who acquire Israeli citizenship each year. He spent much of his army time training along the Gaza border. Since leaving active duty, David pushed to join the reserves for almost three years, a complicated process governed as much by available jobs in reserve units as by a soldier’s eagerness to serve.
Finally, he received a call four weeks ago that he was officially on the reserve list.
When word came this weekend of the call-up, David spent two nights going back and forth on whether to leave New Jersey. It would mean, he said, cutting short the trip home to see his parents which he only gets to do once or twice a year. It would also be his first time away from his wife after three-and-a-half years of marriage.
Then his wife told him to go, David said.
David’s mother remembered feeling the misalignment of her heart and head when she found out he was considering going, which she described as the “life of a mother of a soldier.”
“The right decisions aren’t necessarily easy,” his mother said. She was proud, disappointed and relieved.
From Saturday through Monday, David’s mother said, she and his wife “were in a state of not breathing.” But the fact that David had been accepted into the reserves just four weeks before gave her a sense of relief. She thought: “Why suddenly now did he get accepted so randomly when he’s been pushing for 3 years?” she paused. “He was supposed to go.”
David spent most of Sunday on the phone trying to get answers on where he would be based and how soon he would have to get there.
On the last day in the US, his mother said, “an army of generosity from our community” poured in, with neighbors knocking on their door to give hugs, food, money and asking what they could do to help. With the cash he collected, David made several trips to Walmart, buying five suitcases worth of headlamps, batteries, duct tape and other supplies to take to his new unit. The donations also paid for his flight from John F. Kennedy airport in New York to Athens.
By Tuesday he was in Athens, were he boarded a plane from to Israel with around 180 other IDF personnel and reserves traveling from the US and elsewhere.
David said he’s not nervous for himself, even though he’s going to join a combat unit that he’s never trained with. “I’m nervous about my family,” he said. “My attitude is to help the country anyway I can.”
“You see a country in need, hostages with kids, grandparents and so many people killed,” David said. “I think that people in the [US], they feel useless.”
That feeling, he said, made him that much more sure of his decision to go. His flight was scheduled from Athens to Israel late Tuesday.
“He hasn’t hit the ground yet,” his mother said. “Tomorrow will be a new wave of emotions.”
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