ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Reporter's notebook'It's about the support of the people of Israel'

IDF says it’s providing all equipment. Reservists find different reality on ground

Private citizens rush to purchase proper equipment as reserve soldiers called up for the war find old, inadequate combat gear

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Ready for action. Soldiers pose with the equipment that parent Korin Itzhaki has  purchased for them with the help of donations. (Courtesy, Korin Itzhaki)
Ready for action. Soldiers pose with the equipment that parent Korin Itzhaki has purchased for them with the help of donations. (Courtesy, Korin Itzhaki)

Korin Itzhaki has become a permanent fixture at the sales desk of an army supplies factory.

A divorced kindergarten teacher from a small community near Afula in northern Israel, she sits waiting for equipment to take to her son’s elite commando unit, which is stationed on the northern border.

“I’ve been at the factory three days in a row,” she told The Times of Israel, “but yesterday, the supplies ran out, so I’m waiting.”

Meanwhile, her house has turned into a mini military warehouse.

The Israel Defense Forces insists that it has all the equipment required by the over 300,000 soldiers drafted since the Gaza terror group Hamas infiltrated Israel and committed a bloody massacre on Saturday, killing some 1,350 Israelis.

But parents are not convinced, and many have been mobbing military suppliers to make sure that their sons, and their sons’ friends, have the best equipment possible.

Kindergarten teacher Korin Itzhaki is scouring stores to find supplies for IDF reservists. (Courtesy)

Itzhaki’s son Dor, 25, was surfing in Sri Lanka when the war broke out, and booked an air ticket to return via Dubai.

“From Dubai, he gave me a list and I went on a buying spree,” his mother said. “I got underwear and hygiene products, even nail clippers, for him and his friends, and then went to the army store.”

“On the first day, I sat for six hours. I begged, I cried, to get a particular kind of bulletproof vest for Dor,” she said. “He has to carry a heavy automatic machine gun.”

“The next day, Dor sent me a longer list, which included ceramic plates” (for protection against bullets and shrapnel), she said. “I went and sat again. The manager said he understood that if I couldn’t come in by the door, I’d do so by the window,” she joked.

Dor fundraised from Dubai while waiting for his flight to Israel. He got home on Monday night and is now on the northern border, training.

Equipment on Korin Itzhaki’s floor, waiting to be delivered to soldiers. (Courtesy)

In the meantime, Dor’s sister Maayan, 29, still emotionally scarred by her own military experiences during the 2014 war in Gaza, got hold of other pieces of commando equipment. She has come home to be with her mother during the hostilities.

To date, Itzhaki, who is taking sleeping pills to get through the night, has bought eight bulletproof vests with ceramic plates for her son and his colleagues, the only two helmets she could find, plus multiple pouches for accessories and special bags for the paramedics.

She said didn’t even consider that the reservists could request such equipment from the army. “I didn’t even ask,” she said. “But I’m so glad that I bought when I did because now, the factory has nothing left, and it turns out that Dor was right.”

On Wednesday, Itzhaki’s sister, Galit Shitreet, turned up at the same sales desk asking for a bulletproof vest with ceramic plates for her son Nurai, 19, who is fresh out of conscript training.

A reserve soldier from the infantry wearing equipment issued by the army, October 9, 2023. (Courtesy)

He’s been sent to the northern border, serving as communications coordinator for the deputy commander of a Kfir infantry brigade company.

According to Shitreet, the deputy commander took a bullet in the chest on Sunday in a friendly fire incident because the ceramic plate in his vest was damaged. (Cracks in the plates can reduce their efficacy.)

“It was a miracle that my son wasn’t hurt too,” she said.

The Times of Israel happened to witness that as she was about to purchase a bulletproof vest with ceramic plates, she was amazed to find a tall American-Israeli named Leo Loeffler insisting that he pay instead.

Loeffler, 32, a veteran of the Kfir infantry brigade’s Netzah Yehuda battalion, immigrated to Israel in 2014 from Florida and began his compulsory army service that year. He is currently training to be a tour guide.

Some members of his battalion were mobilized on Sunday, and like countless young Israelis, he and others who had not yet been called swung into action to help their friends.

“We immediately got requests about gear they were missing — bulletproof vests, helmets, tactical gear, ” said Loeffler, a father of a one-year-old, who lives in Givat Olga, next to Hadera in north-central Israel.

On Monday, they started fundraising, and in three days, they raised NIS 100,000 (over $25,000), from supporters in Boca Raton, Florida, New York, and Brooklyn, and from Israelis all over the country.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about the support of the people of Israel,” he insisted.

“We’ve been going from factory to factory, trying to procure everything we can. It’s been difficult because stuff in Israel is in short supply,” he said.

Leo Leoffler, originally from Florida, poses with Sigal Shitreet at an army equipment supplier, October 11, 2023. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

So far, Loeffler and his friends have acquired 21 bulletproof vests, 42 ceramic plates, 25 pairs of knee pads, 45 scopes for weapons (bought in the US and flown in someone’s bag), 40 soft shell fleeces, 25 pairs of tactical glasses, five helmets, more than 200 phone chargers and power banks, more than 40 sets of thermal underwear (the northern border can be cold), and more than 50 sets of headlamp flashlights.

On Thursday, he was heading back to the factories to see what else he could buy.

“I’m getting Instagram requests from people I don’t even know,” he said.

After three days of complaints by army reservists that vital military equipment as well as food and other goods had been lacking, the IDF launched a round-the-clock hotline manned by the technical and logistics branch to provide a response.

Military personnel can contact the hotline via WhatsApp at 052-6156256 to ask about equipment, logistics, food, or anything else that is missing.

Infantry soldiers pose with their new bulletproof vests. (Courtesy, Leo Loeffler)

On October 9, the head of the IDF Logistics Directorate, Maj. Gen. Mishel Yanko, told a media briefing that civilians were welcome to donate funds for “treats” via the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, but that the army would supply the necessary equipment.

“We don’t need help to complete combat equipment,” said Yanko, adding that four logistics centers were now fully stocked. “All our planning is based on the nature of the mission. We didn’t intend for all 300,000 soldiers to receive ceramic vests. Those who fight in Gaza all need ceramic vests,” he said.

Be that as it may, the calls from the reservists themselves have not subsided.

Amit, who asked to withhold his last name, has been raising money to buy vests and other equipment for reservists in a tank company that he commanded from the last Gaza War in 2014 until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, first as a conscripted soldier and then as a career soldier. Recognized as a disabled soldier, he is no longer being mobilized for combat.

He called for people who wanted to donate equipment to check that it was suitable, saying that he had already returned boxes of thin cotton and sports socks and underpants because they were not army standard.

“People should donate money to trusted organizations,” he said.

“We’ll need to continue helping the soldiers. But we also have citizens, whose homes have been destroyed. The hospitals will need help. We’re going into the winter. We’re only in the first week,” said Amit. “People should remember that we’re going to be in this situation for a long time.”

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