The largest mobilization of Israeli military reservists in 50 years, summoned from across the globe to join the fight against Hamas, includes an estimated 800 Americans, many with ties to New York and Long Island.
In response to Saturday's unprovoked surprise attack by Hamas against Israeli citizens, the Israeli Defense Force summoned some 300,000 reservists, the bulk of whom are men and women still living in Israel who have completed their compulsory years of military service after turning 18.
An additional 60,000 reservists volunteered to return to service even though they were not called, according to Rabbi Steven Weil of New Jersey, chief executive of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a nonprofit that provides support and is raising funds for soldiers and their families, both in country and abroad.
Members of the IDF Reserves remain subject to active duty during times of national emergencies, typically until their 40s, depending on their role and circumstances, officials said.
An estimated 3,300 reservists live overseas in 68 nations, including roughly 800 Americans, many residing in New York and parts of Long Island, Weil said in an interview Wednesday.
"Nassau County has one of the largest concentrations of Lone Soldiers," Weil said, referring to members of the IDF who have no immediate family in Israel. " … They're dropping everything. In some cases it's a young family they're leaving behind. In some cases, it means they have to leave their jobs behind. In other cases, it could be their parents that they're leaving behind. All because they feel that this is an existential threat in the history of Israel."
Among the reservists called to duty in recent days is Lucas Siminovsky, whose mother, Robin Siminovsky, is a teacher in the Hebrew school at the East Meadow Beth-El Jewish Center.
Lucas, she said, grew up in Queens and moved to Israel when he turned 18 and voluntarily joined the IDF. He's now married with two children.
Siminovsky said she speaks to her son daily and knows that he is stationed somewhere in northern Israel, considered among the safer regions of the war-torn nation.
"It's always in the back of your mind that 'Oh my God, my son is in Israel. And he's a reservist and if there's a war he's going.' But this is different because of the brutality that went on here," Robin Siminovsky said. "I fear because it can't go back to status quo … This is really much more personal. They didn't go after military people. They went after innocent people."
Bari Nirenberg, who grew up in Dix Hills and moved to Israel in 1988, said her two sons, ages 30 and 26, have been drafted to active duty as well.
One son, she said, is in the north near the Lebanese border and the other in the West Bank.
"I was concerned when my sons went into the Army, and now I'm even more concerned," Nirenberg, who lives about 18 miles from the Gaza border, said Wednesday. " … You never know from minute to minute what could happen. It's very scary because this is a threat that we've never actually faced before."
Nassau Legis. Josh Lafazan has three cousins, originally from Rockland County who later relocated to Israel, who also have been drafted as IDF reservists.
"'I'm so in awe of their bravery and their heroism, joining their neighbors and fighting for the survival of the state of Israel," said Lafazan (D-Woodbury). " … To see my cousins, who I grew up with, serving their nation in uniform, gives me such pride."
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman emeritus of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in a news conference Wednesday with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in New York City, described his tour of Israel in the past few days, which proved both inspirational and horrific.
During a recent visit to a hospital, he met recovering soldiers, including two from New York.
“And they only wanted to get better to be able to rejoin their fellow soldiers. Because what they're fighting for, it's not just for Israel, and not just for Jews,” he said. “It's for America. It's for democracy. It's western values. This is a war of extinction.”
But he also spoke of seeing soldiers visiting a kibbutz that Hamas attacked.
“These young soldiers, their faces ashen because they had to go in. After these bodies were there for two or three days. The stench of death permeated every inch of the place,” he said.
With Tom Brune