Families of IDF reservists in Gaza are struggling – this org. can help

HaOgen is an organization helping the many women in Israel whose husbands and partners have been called up for IDF reserve duty due to the October 7 massacre and Israel-Hamas war.

Reserve soldiers' families find relief with babysitting, cooking, and pet care support (photo credit: HaOgen)
Reserve soldiers' families find relief with babysitting, cooking, and pet care support
(photo credit: HaOgen)

What do you do when your partner is drafted to the front and you remain alone at home two weeks after giving birth – and you also have a dog to take out twice a day? This is just one of the situations faced by some of the wives of reservists following the events of October 7.

Hundreds of similar and even more difficult situations have arisen since the massacre of October 7, resulting in the mass recruitment of reservists. The State of Israel treats reservists generously, with compensation going directly into their bank accounts. They also receive an additional amount beyond that which is required by law, as well as welfare packages from well-meaning volunteers. This is, of course, the right thing to do in these troubled times, when nothing is too much for our soldiers.

But what happens back at home? What do the partners who stay at home and suddenly have to function as single mothers with small children and babies do? The war started without warning and completely disrupted everyone’s lives. Practical considerations also have to be met: Who picks up the child from kindergarten? Who walks the dog? More weighty issues, such as the inability to work as a single mother whose husband is serving his country, also have to be considered.

Following the shock experienced on October 7, society stepped up to the plate to meet these pressing needs and more. One of the responses to the urgent needs of such families, where husbands and partners have been drafted, came from HaOgen (“the anchor”), an organization that supports families of reserve soldiers.

Helping IDF reserve soldiers' families after the October 7 massacre

HaOgen was founded by Jerusalemites former MK Rachel Azaria; social activist Yael Yehieli; and hi-tech expert Racheli Shoreti, together with women with strong military and industry backgrounds. It has established a comprehensive volunteer-based support system for all families whose spouses have been drafted into the IDF.

Reserve soldiers' families find relief with babysitting, cooking, and pet care support (credit: HaOgen)
Reserve soldiers' families find relief with babysitting, cooking, and pet care support (credit: HaOgen)

HaOgen was set up during the 2014 Gaza War, when it operated as an aid center for reservist families and helped 500 Jerusalemite families, thanks to thousands of volunteers.

“It was clear to us from the first day that we needed to reactivate the movement immediately,” says Yehieli, a feminist activist who launched 50:50, aimed at establishing gender equality, which she says is just as relevant now as it was at the time of its inception. 

“I started to learn how countries that reached parity did it. And out of that grew the 50:50 project. I understood that it was impossible to achieve equality without equal partnership between men and women. 50:50 is not a women’s issue. This is not about promoting women, we are not promoting women. We promote and advance equality. That’s why I named the project 50:50. And it is so necessary precisely in periods like we are experiencing now.”

HAOGEN’S GOAL is to provide a variety of services to those families who have members serving on the front lines, ensuring that Israel’s home front remains resilient during the war. “So many of the soldiers keep thanking us, saying that our work makes it possible for them to be calm and focus on their work when they know their family is being taken care of,” says Yehieli.

This is a real Jerusalemite initiative, but it has spread across the country. How does it work on the ground? 

“Our network comprises thousands of women volunteers overseen by 30 women, including national and regional directors, and over 300 city and town coordinators. With the assistance of a very professional technology team, that makes it possible for us to coordinate our nationwide work. In just five weeks, we are supporting over 15,000 members of drafted families in 240 cities and towns, with as many as 25,000 volunteers. 

“HaOgen is the only nationwide organization working with drafted families and collaborating with many organizations: municipalities, the National JCC Organization, the Teacher’s Union, Ben-Gurion University, the army, the Israeli Scouts, and more.”

Regarding the wide array of activities, Yehieli describes: “The network sources and provides an array of support options, such as babysitting, cooking, running errands, walking the family dog, and handling simple home repairs.”

She also says that through the 50:50 project, she realized that the problem is the absence of women at the decision-making table. “Take, for example, a divorced couple with children in joint custody. If the man is drafted, there is practically no more joint custody, and the woman has to fill the place every day of the week. There are many cases where, because there is no school and kindergartens, that woman is forced to go on vacation without salary – imagine – she is a nurse, and her contract at the hospital includes night shifts. 

“If the children are only with her, there is no way she will do night shifts, so she cannot work. At the same time, her ex-husband receives a payment from the state for the reserve days and also a special compensation that goes straight into his bank account – and she has no way of getting part of it; and in the meantime, she becomes unemployed against her will.

“That is the direct result of lack of women where such decisions are made because, obviously, had women been present, they would have pointed that out immediately.”

HAOGEN ONLY works on a voluntary basis. Their request form is distributed among the local authorities, in community centers, and wherever there is a chance that it will reach the female partners of the conscripts. There is one coordinator who calls everyone and checks the specific needs; and based on the data collected, she activates the volunteers. 

“One, for example, needs someone to be with her two-week-old baby twice a day so she can take her three-year-old to daycare. Another needs a meal cooked for Shabbat, while someone else needs a volunteer to take the dog out because she is alone with small children – this is a suitable case for a young person in the neighborhood. We also have grandmothers who would be happy to babysit or things like that. And so on.”

Until three months ago, Yehieli’s main activity was focusing on promoting women in the municipal elections to ensure that enough women have a seat at the decision-making table, especially when public budgets are determined. Her hard work paid off when, impressively, mayoral candidate Moshe Lion announced that his list for the council would be made up equally of men and women. However, the war froze everything, and the elections have been postponed.

“It was an impressive achievement, and I believe it will not be lost; but right now, there are more urgent things to do for women. HaOgen is exactly what is needed today, but it is clear that the day after, we will have to reach a situation in which wherever important decisions are made, 50% women and 50% men will sit around the table. This is our major goal.” ❖

For more information: rachelaza@gmail.com; 054-766-5680.