As news of the terrorist attacks in Israel broke over the weekend, parents in the UK braced themselves for their children to be called up to defend the country.
Israel has drafted a record 300,000 reservists in its response to the brutal assault from Gaza, with many of those called up being “lone soldiers” — troops without close family in the country. There are currently an estimated 8,000 lone soldiers in Israel, some of whom are full-time troops.
“My heart is in my mouth,” says Golders Green mum Rivkah as she faces up to the reality that her son Eli, 25, was called up on Shabbat morning.
“He always wanted to be in the army,” she told the JC.
“He made aliyah as soon as he was 18, and when he was 19, he served two years and eight months as a lone soldier.”
IDF troops in Sderot, southern Israel, last weekend (Photo: Getty Images)
When she first heard about the attacks, Rivkah was desperate to hear that her son was safe.
When she eventually heard from him, “he told me he was OK but that he was on his way to Lebanon and that he had been given his gun”, she said.
“It is a very frightening situation because for us parents, it is very real. We are hearing terrorists trying to infiltrate close by.
“They just can’t afford to make any mistakes.”
Rivkah is part of a UK WhatsApp group set up to support parents of children fighting in the ongoing conflict.
“There are something like 50 to 80 frum boys from Golders Green there right now, and our hearts are all in our mouths. What can I say?”
As well as supporting her son from afar, in London, she has also been trying to support her whole family, who are naturally very anxious.
“My daughter was struggling so much with him being up near Lebanon and the bombs going off, and I keep saying to her that part of my strength, my Emunah (faith) is that we are in the hands of God.”
Rivkah believes that “when our time is up, our time is up, no matter where we are or what we are doing. I trust that what is meant will be, and I pray that what I want and what God wants are aligned”.
Like other parents in the group, she is praying that her son comes home safely and that “there should be no more deaths on either side”.
With the terrorist attacks and the war making the headlines daily, Rivkah wants “the world to properly realise who the Israeli army and the Israeli people are”.
She explained that the unit her son serves with had suffered many losses during the weekend’s terrorist attacks.
She wants the British public to know that while Hamas is a terror group who want to kill, “my son and his soldiers don’t want to hurt anyone. They want peace. They want to defend Israel. What the two sides want don’t marry at all.”
Parents tells of their children's pride at fighting to protect Israel (Photo: Getty Images)
While Rivkah’s “biggest fears are that her son should be captured or killed”, she has also been “warmed by the outpouring from the community”, she said. “The support for our children who are fighting has been mindblowingly beautiful.
“I cling to that hope and belief. He has told me he is proud to be where he is. He is not just fighting for Israel. He is fighting for us here too.”
Yael is an Israeli citizen, living in London and her son made aliyah as a lone soldier.
She has been helping to send equipment and supplies to Israel for reservists who have been called up.
“It is terrifying. When they are training, it is all fun and inspiring and you’re so proud of them. But now this is the reality. It is happening. We know he is near the border. He is giving his life and he is prepared to do this. That means something. It is not just words.”
Her son has been on the front line since the terrorist attacks began and from the UK, Yael has been helping to coordinate support for soldiers.
“At first, we needed to help with getting them equipment. They don’t need that now, but they need our support. Each one of these guys is a real person. They are someone’s son, brother or daughter.
She said that while parents “raise [their]children to really believe in something and dedicate their lives to something, when they do, you cannot believe how much they are willing to give up their life”.
She said: “We have to believe and we have to trust. The lone soldiers are choosing this, and they are committed to this. They are special people.”
Sarah’s stepson has also been called up to the IDF.
She told the JC: “He called my husband and said that they didn’t have the right protective gear.
“The army says they have it, but I know someone down south, fighting terrorists, and he doesn’t have a bulletproof vest. He doesn’t have a helmet. He has nothing. He asked for £10,000 to buy them.”
Sarah, with her stepson’s permission, decided to fundraise, emailing her closest friends and family and, within two hours, had raised £10,000.
IDF spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, denied that there were shortages and said that the issue had been more of a logistical one.
“There is no shortage of equipment in the IDF. It takes time to move some of the equipment, but there is no shortage,” Hagari said.
All the names in this article have been changed