Michael was a few beers into a night out in Tel Aviv on Saturday when he got word he’d been ordered to reserve service and to make his way south first thing in the morning.
Sitting at a staging center for IDF reservists in the South on Sunday, the 26-year-old infantry officer described mixed feelings in the face of the danger likely ahead.
“I was a bit happy to get the call up, because it’s better than just sitting at home not doing anything and unable to help,” he said.
Michael, whose parents live in the rocket-battered city of Ashdod, said he told his family about the call-up hours after he received the call, adding a new layer of stress to their lives.
“If they weren’t able to sleep before because of the rockets, now they can’t sleep because I got called up to the reserves,” he said.
Michael, who in civilian life works in hi-tech in Tel Aviv, milled around the deployment center with a couple dozen soldiers from his unit, most of whom tried to catch some shut eye after long bus rides to the South, while killing time charging their cellphones and smoking cigarettes.
Over the next hour the Color Red rocket warning siren would go off three times, with each alarm followed by at least five loud booms.
Day after day the army has ordered thousands of reservists to report for duty as part of Operation Pillar of Defense. The soldiers can be seen across the South crowding bus depots and roadside cafes, waiting for buses contracted by the army to take them to their next deployment site.
Many described a “hurry up and wait” routine common to the army, as they waited for orders, unsure where they were heading or when they might return to their everyday lives.
Infantry officer Tal, 38, was at home with his kids on Friday night when he got the news he was being deployed.
He made sure to spend the next day with his family, before heading down south on Sunday.
Tal runs a clinic for emotionally and mentally distressed elementary and junior high students at a moshav in the central region. While someone will replace him when he’s called up things are never the same at work, he said.
“Whenever I go into the reserves the kids miss me. Someone always fills in, but it’s not like when I’m there. I start to get into a routine at work with the kids, and then I have to leave again [for the army].”
Tal said he supports the IDF operation in Gaza and that Israel must stop the rocket strikes on the country’s south, even though thousands of reservists like him will be called upon to leave their families and work behind for an unknown future.
“If they need us, we’re coming down here, and we’re happy to be here, but we’d all rather be home,” he said.
Aryeh, 28, returned earlier this month from a two-week honeymoon in Spain, and got the news about his call up Saturday night while watching a movie with his wife at their home in the Dan region.
Aryeh said his wife will move up north to stay with his family in Haifa, where the extra company should help her deal with the worry of having her husband in harm’s way.
The infantryman works as a security guard in civilian life and is studying for a bachelor’s in chemistry,.
Though he said he’s not sure if he’ll be sent in on a ground operation, Aryeh said he has taken comfort in the feeling of brotherhood he saw from Israelis passing him on the long bus ride south on Sunday.
“No matter where we went, there was always someone saying ‘good luck,’ ‘we’ll be with you soon,’ saluting. It felt like we’re all together in this and it’s a kind of brotherhood of arms. Even though not all of us are fighters, we’re all doing our part.”