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svgadminsvgFebruary 9, 2015svgNews

From Brooklyn to Israel’s Front Line against Hamas Terror

Last summer, amid the tension and turmoil of Israel’s 50-day war with Gazan terrorists, Jews throughout the world sprung to action in solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters. 

Prayers, donations, solidarity missions and countless groups of volunteers were all offered to help the embattled residents of southern Israel during Operation Protective Edge, as well as the IDF soldiers protecting them from rockets and deadly infiltration attacks.

But for David Haies, a 35-year-old father of two living in Brooklyn, that just wasn’t enough. Instead, he packed his bags and joined the Israeli army reserves, where he spent almost a month guarding kibbutzim and other communities along the border with Gaza.

Haies, who now works as a social worker, had previously made aliyah in 2003 and served in the IDF’s Givati infantry battalion for two years. Due to various circumstances he returned to the US soon after he was discharged, but he says he has always felt that “my heart is still in Israel.”

“I’ve wanted to go back ever since then,” he says wistfully. “I hope I will one day.”

He describes his army service as “the best experience of my life,” and says he maintained contact with his former comrades and commanders even after moving back to America.

“I didn’t know you could still do the reserves from America though,” he said. “I thought once you’d left the country you weren’t allowed.”

“But I happened to meet a fellow Jew at at RAJE (Russian American Jewish Experience) who told me that he’d also done IDF service and went back regularly to do reserve duty.

“At that point I decided there was no way I would not be going back to do the same.”

Haies immediately contacted his former commander – who he says was “pretty surprised” – to ask him for help signing up to the reserves.

Having already returned to Israel for one stint in the reserves since then, David was suddenly called back last summer as Israel’s ground operation in Gaza began. 

“I was called up on a Friday – August 1st – and was in Israel by Sunday,” he recalls of the moment he received his tzav shmoneh army summons.

Haies says his motivation to “drop everything” for several weeks on end last year was the same one that prompted him to turn down a Masters in Psychology at Yeshiva University and join the IDF back in 2003.

“I had finish my Bachelors at Hunter College and I had an offer for a masters at YU, but I kept seeing the suicide bombings, the burned out buses, on TV,” he recounts, describing the bloody days at the height of the Second Intifada.

“I couldn’t help remembering what had happened in the Holocaust… I saw a lot of bad things happening and I felt I couldn’t just go back to school. I felt more of an obligation to go join the army.

“I was becoming more religious at the time and I just kept thinking about the command ‘Do not stand idly by your brother’s blood’; I knew I had to go.”

Soon after arriving in Israel in June 2003, David made aliyah and joined the army. “I don’t think they even sent me a letter or anything – I just turned up at the enlistment office.”

At age 24 he was only technically required to do six months mandatory service, but, determined to serve in a combat unit, he signed on for two years instead.

He spent half a year after that studying at the religious-Zionist Machon Meir yeshiva in Jerusalem, which he says instilled him with “a love of the Torah, the people and the land of Israel,” after which he was officially enlisted into the army and began his service.

During last summer’s conflict, he joined many of his former comrades guarding southern communities and describes the “daily fear of rockets and terror attacks from Hamas tunnels.”

“It was so hard on the people there,” he said. “Especially for the children. They were really traumatized by the constant sirens and explosions. It was really difficult.”

David’s fellow soldiers were “really happy, really appreciative” that he had chosen to come back and serve with them, but he says the most “amazing” response came from local residents.

“They just couldn’t do enough for us. They brought us hot food, clothes – they even sent a barber to cut all our hair for free. They kept thanking us.

“It made me feel really good, to know that I was doing something to help.”

After finishing his reserve duty he chose to stay on a little longer, working alongside foreign volunteers from the Sar-El Zionist organization before eventually returning to Brooklyn.

He acknowledges the decision to join the IDF reserves was “hard on my wife, but she has been supportive – she understands what this means to me on the one hand, and she also thinks that it is very important.”

“When that terrible terror attack occurred at the synagogue in Har Nof, when four Jews who were praying were hacked to death, I found out that one of the children who escaped was called ‘Shmuel ben [the son of] Bayla’.”

David, himself the father of a five-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl, said finding that out “hit me hard, because my wife’s name is Bayla and I realized that could have been my son.”

“I said to my wife: If I want God to protect my child, I can’t stand by while other Jewish children are under threat.”

As well as a duty, David emphasizes that he sees his IDF reserve service as “a really great privilege and an honor.”

He also goes to great pains to stress that the few weeks a year he serves has reminded him just how much of a debt Israel – and the Jewish people as a whole – have to the men and women who stand on the front lines against those sworn to their destruction.

“Every single soldier here deserves so much respect and appreciation.”

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