Reservists’ spouses feel ‘vacuum’ of absence as households come under strain

Government aid package described by one person as ‘band aid,’ while psychological stress remains high for those taking care of families without their partners

Illustrative: IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip, in an image published on June 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip, in an image published on June 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Like other spouses of army reservists, Sagit Bachner has faced both emotional strain and financial difficulty since her husband was called up to fight the day after the October 7 massacre.

“Suddenly there was a vacuum, like everything was really on me,” said Bachner, 37.

“I had to be the mom, the dad, the caregiver — everything was basically on my shoulders.”

In the months since, Israel has vowed to destroy the Hamas terror group and rescue the hostages while also resettling ruined communities near the Gaza Strip and helping the evacuees.

“But they paid no attention to us,” said Bachner, who has looked after the couple’s three sons while putting on hold her business, which makes board games.

When the war started, donations poured in to support Israel’s male and female reservists, who are considered a pillar of the army, and their families, as their household incomes have shrunk.

A convoy of Israeli army trucks carrying mortar shells advances on a road near the southern city of Sderot, on October 23, 2023. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

But after a few weeks, Bachner said, she found herself alone at home with the children in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Tel Aviv, their anxiety rising and family finances dwindling.

Bachner, originally from Argentina, said their seven-year-old son was angry at first at his father’s absence, but later came to take pride in his military service.

A drawing stuck on the fridge shows his father standing at the front of the family with a message scrawled: “Dad is not just taking care of us, but of everyone.”

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s devastating October 7 onslaught in southern communities, in which terrorists murdered 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 251 hostages, 120 of whom remain in Gaza, not all of whom are alive.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. Of these, some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals or through self-reporting by families, with the rest of the figure based on Hamas “media sources.” The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and ninety-five soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

‘A band-aid’

Men who have completed their military service generally stay in the pool of mandatory reservists until the age of 40, a limit temporarily raised to 41.

In December, Bachner joined a group of wives of reservists created to share information on labor laws and to campaign for greater government support.

Shvut Raanan, who is also a member, said nearly 100,000 relatives of reservists are now struggling to manage a household on their own.

IDF reservists of the 646th Brigade in the central Gaza Strip, January 14, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

“This is a change that affects everything,” said Raanan, 31, a lawyer and mother of four.

“It affects the mental state, it affects the ability to work, it affects the quality of functioning as a mother.”

Nearly one-third of spouses surveyed by the group said they had suffered professionally since the war began, according to a poll released last month.

Among the reservists and spouses surveyed, six percent said they had lost their jobs and 19% had to take unpaid leave.

In January, a $2.5-billion package was approved to help reservists.

“It’s like putting on a band-aid,” said Bachner. “We need more.”

‘Stay strong’

In February, the Histadrut labor federation and an employers’ organization signed an agreement that extended the protection period for reservists against dismissal.

Late last month, the Knesset passed a law aimed at preventing the dismissal or deterioration of working conditions for the spouses of reservists during the mobilization period.

However, the psychological stress remains high for the partners of mobilized reservists whose current number the army did not disclose.

“We need to take care of ourselves, stay strong for ourselves and for our children,” said Avital Horev, a communications officer for the reservists’ wives forum.

She said her husband had fought in Gaza for an initial 150 days and was recently called up for another tour.

“We also find ourselves needing to take care of our husbands who come back from long months on the battlefield, different, full of trauma from what they have seen, and not yet able to process it,” Horev said.

For now, the Israel-Hamas war shows no sign of ending and there is the risk of another breaking out on Israel’s tense northern border with Lebanon.

This is sure to put more strain on reservists and their families, warned Ariel Heimann, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“The families of the reserve force — the nuclear family and the broader family — have a dramatic role in the force’s resilience and its ability to continue to serve and fight over time,” Heimann had said in January.

“It would be unreasonable to assume that the reservists will be at the disposal of the IDF indefinitely and at full force.”

Most Popular
read more: