Chaim Pinson was celebrating Shemini Atzeret in Brooklyn and was ready to retire for the night. It was Friday, and Pinson had spent a joyous evening dancing with the Torah at the central Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in the Crown Heights neighborhood. Coming from Miami to visit family in New York, where he grew up, the 31-year-old was having a great holiday.

“I was meeting old friends I hadn’t seen in years, catching up on war stories with a friend. I walked home after hakafot and went to bed,” he recalls. “In the morning, I was tracked down in my apartment and woken by an old friend who told me what was happening. I was disgusted, horrified and scared. I thought I was dreaming and pinched myself.”

Staff Sgt. Pinson, a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces, opened his phone—something he would never otherwise do on Shabbat—and saw a Tzav Shmoneh, or Order 8, flashing on his screen. He’d been called up to serve with his Golani combat unit, rejoining his brothers-in-arms he’d served alongside from 2010 to 2012. Booking the next flight to Israel, he went to his parents’ house to fetch his backpack and some clothing, and to say goodbye.

Blocks away, Shai Glazer, a resident of Kfar Chabad—the Chabad village near Tel Aviv—was also heading to bed, a little after 1 a.m. A member of the Israel Police reserves, he was accustomed to leaving his phone turned on over Shabbat in Israel, and out of habit, did the same while spending the holiday in New York.

Glazer’s phone did not stop buzzing and seeing bits of fractured messages on the home screen, he pieced together that something terrible was underway. In the morning, at prayer services in 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad’s world headquarters, Glazer heard more rumors. Terrorists had infiltrated Israeli villages and towns. Some of his friends asked the New York City Police Department officers stationed outside the synagogue for more information.

When the lengthy holiday service concluded at 1:15 p.m., Glazer met two other Israelis outside who appraised him of the situation. “I called Israel immediately; I had an order to report for duty,” he says.

Together with two other friends in the Israeli army reserves, Glazer desperately looked for tickets, but found nothing. A call to Rabbi Shlomi Peles, Chabad’s security and special operations coordinator in Israel, got Glazer the number of a travel agent who would help. That afternoon his phone pinged. The tickets were booked.

Glazer rushed back to 770 to find a rabbi to assure him he was doing the right thing. “If you were in Israel now, would you go? Then you must go from here, too,” the rabbi instructed him.

“These are the empty ammo boxes that remained when 120 soldiers leave their families behind, come to a base, get their vests, armor, guns, ammo and go to the front lines facing Hezbollah. Three soldiers were killed near our unit on Monday.”
“These are the empty ammo boxes that remained when 120 soldiers leave their families behind, come to a base, get their vests, armor, guns, ammo and go to the front lines facing Hezbollah. Three soldiers were killed near our unit on Monday.”

Dozens of Reservists Rush to the Airport

Separately, Glazer, Pinson and dozens of other Chabad reservists took Ubers from Crown Heights and rushed to John F. Kennedy International Airport. “I wore my Shabbat garb, my hat and kapote to the airport. It was still a holiday,” Glazer says. At the airport, stunned passengers kept asking him why he was flying on a religious holiday, and Glazer says he saw many other Chabad Chassidim there, too.

“My flight was a mix of civilians and reservists,” Pinson reports. He managed to snag a direct El Al flight at the airport, swiping his credit card for fellow reservists to book flights as well. “It was complete chaos at the El-Al desk.” The reservists encouraged one another during the long flight, and one commando gave Pinson a real morale boost. “He wasn’t afraid of anything. He had a determined and calm demeanor, and helped put me at ease.” Two other Chabad Chassidim were seated near Pinson.

Speaking from an army base in northern Israel, he describes taking a deserted three-hour bus ride from Tel Aviv to join his unit. Walking to the front of the bus, Pinson says he struck up a conversation with the driver: “We spoke about the shock, the barbarity, the brutal nature of our enemies, and we were just shattered and broken. But before I got off, I just said in Hebrew: ‘We are a strong people.’ He smiled. And that gave me all the strength I needed.”

Glazer is stationed with the Jerusalem police, while his two friends who left New York with him are on the southern and northern borders, respectively.

“I have seen a lot of miracles, a lot of horror. There’s no fear here; morale is high, and we are getting so much love from everyone,” he says. “At the same time, we know that we are about to destroy our enemies, and we are ready; there’s no hesitation. I have accepted that I am ready to die, if that is what needs to happen. I left everything behind.”

To pray for the safety of all residents and soldiers in the Holy Land, Psalms 20, 22, 69 and 150 are traditionally said in times of distress.

For more information, inspiration and insights on the Gaza War visit’s Israel at War home page, which includes 7 Things You Can Do for Israel Now and instructions on how to Donate to the Israel Emergency Relief Fund.