NEW YORK (Mar. 23)
Around 9 o’clock Wednesday night, Jeff Kaye got a phone call tapping him for Israel’s reserve duty.
The 43-year-old Scot, who made aliyah 22 years ago, asked his daughter Adi, 13, and son Eldan, 17, to help retrieve his army uniform from its perch in the closet and pack his bag for an early morning departure.
In a phone interview with JTA on March 20 from his army base, Kaye admits his immediate reaction was a “sunken- hearted feeling.”
But soon after, he said, “I realized that the great import of what I had to do far outweighs my personal comfort.”
A big part of living in Israel is contributing to it, says Kaye, director of financial resource development for the Jewish Agency for Israel, an overseas partner of the federation system that handles Israel’s immigration and absorption.
“Whether at my desk” at the Jewish Agency or “wearing this olive green uniform,” he said, pitching in for the Jewish state “is really why I’m in this country in the first place, why I came here.”
Called up March 19 along with 12,000 other reserve soldiers for various duties, Kaye is stationed in the army’s Home Front command.
While he couldn’t disclose his location for security reasons, he said he was near a densely populated part of the country’s center.
“That’s where we’re needed most,” he says, since population centers are likely targets.
The Home Front Command is charged with telling civilians how to prepare for and respond to an attack, and will serve as rescue squads if need be.
For now, Kaye’s unit of a few hundred people is busy manning phones — answering civilian questions from how to protect their pets to what to do if their children resist wearing gas masks — finalizing contingency plans with hospitals, fire and police brigades, and helping to formulate policy.
For his part, Kaye is composing public messages.
“The rumors and misinformation and disinformation are all over,” Kaye says.
For example, there already have been several cases in which Israelis, presumably out of panic or confusion, prematurely injected themselves with atropine, an antidote for chemical weapons that comes in Israelis’ gas mask kits. Atropine causes severe dehydration.
It’s up to Kaye’s group to provide “the right information at the right time,” he says.
The high sensitivity of the Home Front Command’s detection equipment means those bases will be among the first to learn of any trouble.
That has created a sense of tension among Kaye’s unit.
“Everyone is very much on high alert,” he says.
But Kaye says Home Front Command is a “well-oiled machine” with elaborate coordination.
“All of the soldiers have been briefed and know exactly what their assignments are,” he says. “We seem to be very prepared for all likelihoods.”
In a conference call Friday with leaders of the American Jewish federation system, Kaye reiterated that point.
Kaye stressed the military advances Israel has made since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
“I think we’re light years ahead of where we were due to the advanced warning system that would be made available.” The system is designed to allow Israel to intercept incoming missiles.
Personal emergency equipment also has been improved.
That’s due in part to funds raised through the federation system’s Israel Emergency Campaign, Kaye says, noting rotating beepers for the deaf and gas masks for children.
For Kaye, who has been working professionally with the Israel Emergency Campaign, it’s “quite fitting that I should be here at this point as part of the” Israel Defense Force, he says.
Meanwhile, among his troop, “there’s this spirit of camaraderie which comes from the responsibility of the tasks at hand,” Kaye says. “When it’s your job to deal with a civilian population, you have to be composed” and “speak with authority and confidence.”
Apparently that goes for personal business, too.
Members of his unit are frequently on their cell phones, reassuring their children that they’ll be home soon.
Kaye spoke March 20 with his daughter — who was more rattled than his son by Kaye’s departure — asking about her first day toting her gas mask to school.
Adi said it was “a pain” to carry the cumbersome cardboard box around, Kaye says.
Yet “personal concerns and issues are not in the forefront of our thoughts at the moment,” Kaye says.
Rather, it’s “getting through the next night without Israel being attacked, and future nights.”
“Everybody wants to be at home and be with their families,” says Kaye, who does not yet know when he will be allowed to go home.
Still, “if there’s a role to be played in a time of conflict, I want to be where I can be useful.”