Israel-Gaza War, IDF

Israeli reservist soldiers are angry as they are forced to sacrifice their academic futures

Frustration mounts as reserve duty derails studies, shatters finances for tens of thousands forced to trade books for rifles.

Israeli infantry reservist soldiers prepare to cross to the Gaza Strip in a deployment area near the Israeli-Gaza border (Photo: Roni Schutzer /Flash 90)

As the war grinds on, a growing chorus of Israeli students serving in the reserves is crying out for help. Forced to trade textbooks for rifles, these "student soldiers" are sacrificing their academic progress and financial stability in defense of the nation.

"I'm tired, and I feel alone," says Bar Binyamin, a 26-year-old industrial engineering student at the Ruppin Academic Center. As reported by Ynet, since October, Binyamin has endured a relentless cycle of combat deployments in the south and north, repeatedly ripped away from his civilian life as a student. "I have to participate in ambushes and patrols, with only assignments and missed lectures on my mind, because I know they won't go easy on me."

Binyamin missed over three months of classes last term, material he now must make up on his own time amid the chaos of war. "It's like a marathon where the finish line keeps moving away," he laments.

His plight is echoed by tens of thousands of Israeli students abruptly thrust into the role of soldiers. Yoav Luxenburg, a 26-year-old entrepreneurship major at Ben-Gurion University, feels the academic institutions have failed to grasp the magnitude of the disruption. "A fighter who is in Gaza for months and misses everything - that's the huge gap between the offered solutions and the reality."

As the combat intensifies, more and more students are being summoned for second and third rounds of reserve duty, digging an ever-deeper hole. "We're chasing our own tails, it's almost impossible to recover," says Ron Peretz, 25, a law and economics student at Hebrew University and a leader of the Discharged Soldiers' Forum.

The toll goes beyond academics. Students struggle to find work when employers know they could be called up at any moment. Families crumble under the combined strain of deployment and lost income.

"All your friends are progressing, while you're left behind, constantly trying to make up gaps and somehow survive the studies," says Eli Barshilton, 28, a computer science major who has logged over 200 reserve days just since October.

In March, the Council for Higher Education approved modest relief - some academic credits, pass/fail course options, deferred exam dates. But as one student observes, "there is still a huge gap between the offered relief and the accumulating academic and financial deficiencies."

Disturbing parallels are being drawn to the government's support for exempting thousands of ultra-Orthodox seminary students from military service altogether. This week's decision to extend that conscription exemption by six months has further fanned the flames.

"Everyone serves without asking questions and knows the sacrifices, yet only one sector is exempt, free to go about their business," fumes Luxenburg. "It's an absurdity that has shattered what little hope I had that the state cares about us reservists."

Luxenburg is also a business owner, and he says that the interruptions have been catastrophic for his fledgling dog treat company. "Succeeding while I'm constantly being called for arrests and missions is not possible," he says. "My business wouldn't be in this trouble if not for my reserve duty."

For Barshilton, the staggering opportunity costs weigh heavily. "While laying the foundations for their futures, my generation is sacrificing our 'golden years' for national security...The state needs to change course and compensate us reservists far more, drastically."

Some, like Peretz, question the long-term viability of a system where "only some segments of society bear the burden" of defense. As he looks to begin a career, the 25-year-old worries the academic concessions granted to student soldiers will make employers "look down on our degrees."

With regional tensions simmering, more reserve call-ups appear inevitable in the coming years, raising existential questions about how to properly incentivize and support a population being asked to mortgage its future.

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