Baltimore Parents Grapple With Children Serving in the IDF

Paula Siskind (right) and her son Shammai at the Western Wall. Shammai is currently serving in the IDF.

Paula Siskind’s family lives in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Baltimore, but her son, Shammai, lives in Israel and is currently assigned to an Israel Defense Forces intelligence unit, commonly known as Aman.

Rather than serving on the frontlines, his job is to process information that the IDF receives about conflicts they are engaged in and to decide how to proceed.

“He’s doing what he needs to do,” Paula Siskind said. “And we feel strongly that every single person needs to do what they need to do [to help in the current situation], and we feel really grateful that he’s helping the future of all Jews.”

For some Baltimore residents, the war between Israel and Hamas is deeply personal. These Baltimoreans are supporting not just the state of Israel, but have children who are serving in the IDF.

For Israeli citizens who have served in the IDF, including those who have made aliyah from other countries, reserve duty is mandatory. In case of emergency, former IDF soldiers are to stay on reserve, and many have been mobilized due to the current situation in Israel. As a result, many parents whose children made aliyah to Israel must contend with the fact that their child could be selected to serve at any time.

Siskind spoke of a recent experience that Shammai told her about. He had gone out with a group of people he had met during military training when he first joined the IDF, and they managed to find 30 people who were considered missing during the attacks. They had been hiding in a bunker, unable to contact anyone.

“We have the idea that [people who work in military intelligence] are just sitting behind a desk in a base and that nothing will happen to them, but the idea that there is no danger in intelligence work is an illusion,” Siskind added. “No one is really safe.”

Siskind said that she has been speaking with her son every day, and that the local community has been very supportive of her.

“I feel like we’re all supporting each other. Everyone knows someone, whether they are a family member, friend or someone else who is connected with what’s going on,” she said. “I don’t feel supported so much as that I’ve been helping support others, and that I am part of the support given. I feel very unified with everybody.”

Tatyana Goldberg recently spoke about her own experience as a parent of an IDF soldier at an ARIEL Center rally in support of Israel. Goldberg and her family have attended the ARIEL Center for many years, including her daughter Avi, who has been a member since she was small.

Avi Goldberg currently serves in the IDF as the commander of an artillery unit, a development her mother said was unexpected.

“She was very gung-ho about going to college, but during COVID-19, she felt a bit lost doing online school,” Tatyana Goldberg said. “She started exploring volunteer opportunities, and a firehouse she volunteered at had a program where they went to Israel and volunteered with Magen David Adom, [Israel’s emergency services]. The program was canceled, but she started exploring more Israel possibilities and decided she wanted to join the IDF.”

Avi Goldberg was actually supposed to visit her family in the U.S. for a month on Oct. 7, but Hamas’ attack on Israel derailed those plans.

“She already had her release papers to take a vacation in the states. I had set my alarm for 2 a.m. to make sure that she was awake, her bags were at the door and she was calling a cab,” Tatyana Goldberg said. “She called to tell me her flight was delayed, but I didn’t think much of it. But as we were talking, both of our phones blew up.”

While Avi Goldberg’s flight did leave Israel, it left without her on it. She decided to return to base to fight alongside her fellow soldiers.

Tatyana Goldberg said that her family has had a difficult time with Avi Goldberg fighting a war overseas, but the positive experiences her daughter has told her about have helped to ease her worries a bit.

“The unity that she feels with her unit and their families is what really warms my heart,” she said. “Families from around the base drop off homemade meals for them, and things like that help keep everything together.”

People in the Baltimore area have also come together to support the Goldberg family, said Tatyana’s husband, Igor Goldberg.

“[The community support] has been fantastic,” he said. “It’s been overwhelming how friends and family, Jewish and non-Jewish, close and distant friends have been calling in to support us. We’ve had people say they’re having their synagogues and churches pray for Avi’s safety. And it’s been very uplifting.”

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