Israel News

What Does It Mean To Be in the IDF Reserves

Israel’s most famous wars have been often won by elite units made up of IDF reservists, and the current Israel-Hamas war has seen an unprecedented call-up of almost the entire reserve forces.

Read on to learn more about what it means to be “called up” to the reserves of the Israel Defense Forces, who is eligible (is it true all Israeli adults are potential reservists?), and even some unique practices by Israeli reservists that’ll leave you inspired!

In light of the current Operation Swords of Iron and the devastating massacre of October 7, 2023, we’ve compiled a list of recommended organizations to donate to in order to directly help the war effort – check it out here!

And show off your solidarity with Israel with our Support Israel collection here, with each purchase directly supporting the Israeli artists who work hard to bring you their creations even during wartime.

Who Can Be an IDF Reservist?
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Is It True All Israeli Adults Are In the Reserves?

Contrary to popular myth, not all Israelis are in the reserves, and those who are, are private citizens unless explicitly called up for war or a national emergency - so don't let anyone tell you that there's no such thing as an Israeli civilian!

The majority of Israel's citizens serve in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) as enlisted soldiers for 2-3 years during young adulthood; despite a universal draft, a certain number of Israelis are exempt every year due to reasons such as marital status, religious affiliation (most non-Jews aren't drafted), yeshiva studies, or health issues or disabilities. Upon completing their mandatory service, former IDF soldiers may then be required to enter the reserve rolls, based on their military experience and the country's needs, for a certain period of time - usually until age 40 or 45.

 

Israeli reservists serving in an IDF combat unit (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Wikimedia Commons license CC BY 2.0)

 

Most reservists are men, and the IDF reserve force is predominantly made up of those belonging to combat units. In fact, many of the most elite fighting units in both the ground forces and the Air Force rely heavily on reservists, who bring more experience and maturity to their roles.

In addition, there is also a number of reservists serving roles in operations, intelligence, search and rescue, the Home Front Command, and more.

While Israel's standing army consists of 169,500 active-duty personnel, the number of available reservists is around 465,000.

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What Does Being in the IDF Reserves Entail?
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IDF reservists get called up for training every so often, with varying degrees of regularity based on their role, or to help train newly enlisted soldiers or assist with other operational roles. Reserve service (or "miluim" in Hebrew) of this type is technically considered voluntary since reservists are private citizens and not enlisted. However, many feel bound by national duty to report when called, and some even volunteer for additional reserve service as opportunity allows.

On the other hand, in times of war or national emergency, a reservist may receive a draft order to report for duty, which is legally mandatory - failing to report when called may even result in imprisonment. Impressively, during Israel's current war, the IDF has seen an over 100% report rate by reservists!

Outside of wartime, Israelis who are part of the IDF reserve forces are regular civilians with jobs, families, and normal lives.

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The Unique Culture of IDF Reserve Soldiers
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...And the Unique Ways You Can Honor Them Wherever You Are!

Israel's reservists usually serve with the same unit and the same people throughout all their service years, which results in a special, close camaraderie among soldiers. This can lead to unique customs and practices - from backgammon games in the 1980s, to today's reserve soldiers wearing their favorite t-shirts from home or tzitzit under their uniform, or sporting mustaches in honor of their predecessors in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

 

IDF reserve troops playing backgammon outside Beirut during a lull in fighting during the First Lebanon War in 1982 (Photo: Yaakov Saar/Israel Government Press Office/Wikimedia Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Israeli pop culture is rife with references to and even stereotypes and humor about reserve soldiers. They are often seen as laid-back yet brave and resourceful, and committed to their families as much as their nation.

The IDF reserves are a beloved part of the armed forces and of Israeli culture, and necessary to the safety and security of the country. Israel even has an official Reserve Day or Yom Miluim in honor of its reservists (miluimnikim in Hebrew), observed in conjunction with Lag BaOmer.

 

Man sporting a mustache style popular with IDF reservists, while wearing an IDF t-shirt

 

Want to honor Israel's brave reserve soldiers yourself?

Here's what you can do:

  1. Donate to organizations providing equipment and support for soldiers in the field, such as the ones we recommend here.
  2. If you're in Israel, check with your local community about donation drives for soldiers as well as volunteer opportunities to assist the spouses and children of called-up reservists.
  3. If you're outside Israel, contact your local government representatives, such as your US Congressperson or Senator, to demand aid and support for Israel's defense.
  4. Wear IDF-themed gear or Support Israel items made by Israeli artists to express your solidarity!
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