Noam Zuckerman
Creator and Co-host, The Critically Zionist Podcast

The Citizen Soldiers, Israel’s Strength

Israel is a tiny Jewish country that manages to thrive in the Middle East with hostile neighbors. The quality of the IDF provides the security necessary for this to happen.

Army service in Israel is mandatory. Israelis are drafted at age 18. Girls must serve at least 2 years and boys for 3. Those that want to be officers, in elite units, or pursue a military career can sign more time in addition to the mandatory service.

Those that do not extend their service begin their post-army lives. Many choose to travel around the world, taking the time to remember and appreciate the beauty of being free. They gave their time for the country and deservingly decide to take some time for themselves.

When they return to Israel, they find letters from the army ordering them to appear for Reserve duty, unopened at their homes. Mandatory service in the IDF does not end after 3 years, one continues to serve in the reserves until age 40.

It is this massive reserve army that allows Israel to survive and thrive in a hostile middle east, while maintaining a relatively small standing army.

During peaceful time, the standing army is responsible for the security throughout Israel. Reserve duty consists of training sessions to maintain combat-readiness, or short stints of guard duty throughout Israel to supplement the standing army.

During an emergency, reserve units are activated to reinforce the standing army. They can replace conscript soldiers doing guard duty, freeing those soldiers to participate in an operation. Or, they can enter the battlefield themselves.

Some of the most important battles in Israel’s history have been fought by the reserve forces.

In 1967, a reserve paratrooper unit fought the battle at Ammunition Hill and then captured the Old City of Jerusalem, reuniting the city that many feel is the heart of Israel.

Israel’s standing army is deployed at maximum capacity. Before any type of ground operation, or if Israel needs to raise the security level, the responsibility falls on the reserves.

Whether it be taking part in the most important battles, as in 1967, or replacing the conscript soldiers on border patrol around the country in Operation Protective Edge; the reserve army allows Israel to deploy its forces in the most effective way. The country relies on the reserves in its most trying times.

Those who are familiar with Israel’s history know that the reserve army is so essential to Israel’s survival, but often this fact is taken for granted.

The reserve soldiers that report to duty are not sitting at home waiting for a call from the military. They are citizens throughout Israel. People from all professions, from all sides of the political spectrum, and from all parts of Israel, that must drop what they are doing and report to the army without warning. Amazingly, they do.

People who run their own businesses, new fathers, new husbands, students and recently discharged soldiers, show up to do their national duty.

A secular, left-leaning kibbutznik from the Huleh Valley and a right-wing settler would seemingly have nothing in common. But, in reserve duty they can find themselves working together leading a mix of Ashkenazim and Mizrahim into battle.

The diversity may lead to problems in the bathroom for some after family members bring food packages for all to share. Sometimes, there are even heated discussions while on guard duty. But, the need to defend the country and their desire to help, allows them to forget their differences and work together .

I just finished my first deployment as a reservist. My unit was called up to add security to the settlements bordering with Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

Because I made Aliyah after age 21, I served 2 years, instead of the required 3. The soldiers that I trained and served with, are still in the army.

During the ground operation, they went into Gaza to return quiet to the border, to my kibbutz, that sits about 3 kilometers from Gaza. I was a citizen, working in agriculture, sleeping in my own bed every night.

I don’t want to fight in a war and I would rather not see what Gaza looks like from the perspective of a soldier in battle. I did not move to Israel to be a soldier. I moved to Israel to be a part of the Jewish State, to live on a kibbutz, to speak Hebrew, and eventually to start a family, an Israeli one.

But, because I understand how necessary a Jewish state is and what an amazing opportunity it is to live in Israel, I proudly accept the responsibility I have to serve in its defense.

I was proud to wear the uniform during my mandatory service and am proud to be a part of the reserve army.

As my friends were going into battle, I did not feel right sitting at home, not in uniform.

I was not fulfilling my responsibility to defend the country. Instead of being happy that I was not in the army, I packed my bag and waited for the reserves to call, anxious to help.

When I received the call to report to reserve duty, I tried not to show it, but everyone around could see how excited I was to go back to the army.

I did not have a desire to fight or to be in a war, but I wanted to help Israel to the best of my ability. I was not going into Gaza. For the most part, my reserve duty was during the ceasefire, but I was on patrol, defending the kibbutzim near mine.

As an American, I did not know many people in the armed forces, volunteering their lives for national service. The few that I did were outliers, doing something I could never bring myself to do.

In Israel, it is the standard. At every national emergency, tens of thousands of reserve soldiers have the same feeling that I had.

They would rather be working at their new job, spending time with their wife, or with their new-child, but when a situation arises, they pack their bags and report to reserve duty.

The country depends on their service. Whether they have a smile or a frown, they report to their reserve units and accept the mission they are given.

As a rookie in reserve duty, I did not know what to expect. Would people be professional, would they be helpful, would they want to be there?

I joined my unit and as I got to know the guys around me a little bit, I was pleasantly surprised. Those who had been in the unit for a long time had been called up for all of the operations since the Second Lebanon War. Others, like me had only been out of the army for a short time and this was their first time being called up.

All the different personalities helped us make a good time out of a difficult situation.  The incredibly diverse group of guys between the ages of 22 and 40 were all in the reserves for the same reason, to defend the country.

As I understood this fact, I began to realize the beauty of the situation. In Israel, it is not exceptional to put your country before yourself, it is expected. This makes some people feel taken for granted, but most are happy to help.

They understand the threats surrounding our tiny Jewish State and believe in the necessity to preserve it. It is this state of mind that allows Israel to progress and prosper, even while under attack by Gaza.

People in Israel accept their responsibility to contribute to the country’s defense. Thanks to the reservists who report time after time, we look back at our military victories, some more successful and some less, instead of our losses.

It is this interdependence, that ensures our independence, which was lacking for 2000 years.

Some say the Second Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred between Jews. The Israeli society’s acceptance of their reserve duty overcomes the disagreements in society and allows it to thrive, a reversal of what happened during the Second Temple. Without it, there would be no Jewish State to defend.

It is not just the soldiers in the reserves that display the collective national consciousness. The businesses all over Israel provided discounts for residents from the South seeking a safer place to stay. People sent donations to the soldiers stationed throughout the country. Volunteers offered themselves to help the soldiers, farmers, and day cares under attack.

The rallies for and against the operation in Gaza are an expression of this same understanding. Their lives are being affected and their children, husbands, and parents are sent to fight. It is impossible to ignore the national consciousness.

I did not leave America, because it was a hard life. Living in America was a blessing. I came from a loving household, received a good education, and always felt safe.

But, I felt like a guest. The country was founded by a different people, spoke a different language, and other people were responsible for my safety. I must admit, America treats their guests very well, but I did not want to be a guest anymore.

When I made Aliyah, I decided I was ready to join my life to the rest of the people in Israel. Life in Israel is not perfect, sometimes its even pretty hard, but it is our responsibility. It will improve or regress depending on its citizens.

The 3rd anniversary of my Aliyah was during my reserve deployment. It reminded me about the strength of Israel’s society and the reason I made Aliyah.

About the Author
Creator and Co-host of The Critically Zionist Podcast. Noam grew up in Chicago and made aliyah in 2011. He is a die-hard Zionist and commissioner of Israel's first 16 inch softball league, married to Liraz and Abba to Geffen, living in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem.
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