December 10, 2023

Josh Ulansey, in the final year of law school at UC Davis, was awake all night watching the death toll from Hamas terrorist attacks rise during the war between Israel and Hamas. Then came news of the hostages. “I knew I had to come back, whether I could make it into my unit or not, whether I could even make it into the army or not,” Ulansey, cradling his army-issued M-16, told The Jerusalem Post.
His passport had expired, he flew to Seattle for an emergency passport renewal. When he arrived in Israel, the army said it had no room for him after more than 300,000 reservists were called up. He volunteered with various civilian groups for a week, then talked his way into an army unit. Eventually, he was able to return to his paratrooper reserve unit, where he had been a lone soldier seven years earlier. He has been stationed right on the Lebanese border and has even exchanged fire with Hezbollah gunmen. Yet he has no doubt that he made the right decision to come. “In America I just felt helpless and felt like my people were under attack,” he said.
There are no statistics on how many Israeli reservists have returned to take part in the war, and the IDF Spokesman said it had no statistics available. But more than 200,000 Israelis came from abroad in the first 10 days of the war, and it’s likely that most of them were soldiers. Many had “Tzav 8” or emergency call-up orders. Eli M. (whose last name cannot be used because he is in a special rescue unit) was working as an emissary for Ohr Torah Stone in the UK for the past six years. His oldest celebrated his bar mitzvah during the war. Eli managed to fly back for the bar mitzvah weekend and then return to his unit.
“I knew what my unit does, and I knew it was needed. I packed my stuff in about 20 minutes on Shabbat, went back to the synagogue to say goodbye to my wife and kids, and I left. I got on a flight and arrived in Israel on Sunday (the day after the war began).”
Beyond soldiers, there are also thousands of volunteers, both Israelis and Diaspora Jews, who have come to offer whatever help they can. Tali Speizman is an Israeli physical therapist who moved to New York to pursue a doctorate and is working at Mount Sinai Medical Center. She says she knew that many of her former colleagues at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, would be called up to serve, so she quickly made the decision to come and volunteer.
Speizman says she has treated several of the victims of the October 7 Hamas massacre, including a man with a severe brain injury. There is also the grandmother who laid on top of her grandchildren to save them when Hamas terrorists attacked. She and the grandchildren survived, but she has grenade fragments in her legs. “There are a lot of horrible injuries in both civilians and soldiers,” she said. The attack has also personally impacted her, with four members of her father’s family killed on October 7. She has friends who have been called up for reserve duty. “We need to fight for each other, and we need to help each other,” she said.