Yulia Karra
April 8

Meet Natalie Zaks. The 25-year-old owns Natalie’s Pretzel Boutique, a small business that has been struggling to keep afloat since Zaks was called up for reserve army duty on October 7. 

“We opened two months prior to events of October 7,” the Government, Diplomacy and Strategy student at Reichman University tells ISRAEL21c. 

Because her business is practically brand new, Zaks is not entitled to any compensation from the state over potential loss of revenue. 

Falling through the cracks 

Zaks is one of 360,000 soldiers who were called up for reserve duty at the start of the war in Gaza. According to a civil group Brothers and Sisters for Israel, at least 10 percent of those who had been called up are small business owners. 

Natalie Zaks on an army base during reserve duty. Photo courtesy of Natalie Zaks
Natalie Zaks on an army base during reserve duty. Photo courtesy of Natalie Zaks

Although the government had rolled out a plan to help small businesses shortly after October 7, the strict and rigorous eligibility criteria meant some would inevitably fall through the cracks. 

In addition, even those eligible for financial-aid packages have been struggling to keep their businesses alive while away on reserve duty. 

“There are many more like me, who don’t necessarily have the receipts to prove they have lost revenue,” says Zaks. 

For example, Zaks lost a fortune on bulk-bought ingredients that spoiled while she was away. That expense does not qualify as loss of revenue. 

The same goes for scheduled orders that were canceled. 

From scratch

“I invested tens of thousands of shekels into [my business], as well as resources and time. And now, I have to start from scratch,” explains Zaks.

Zaks says after a few intense weeks, her army job at the Operations Directorate has become a routine that now allows her to manage the business from afar. 

She manages all the logistics, while her mother physically makes the pretzels at the shop in Holon and delivers online orders. 

Natalie's pretzels being prepared for delivery. Photo courtesy of Natalie Zaks
Natalie’s pretzels being prepared for delivery. Photo courtesy of Natalie Zaks

“My brother is also on reserve duty, so my mom is maneuvering between my business and her own job,” she notes. 

Many others, however, don’t have that privilege. Especially those who serve on the frontlines and don’t even have access to a phone, let alone a computer. 

No business on the frontline

One of them is Sahar Shemesh. Captain (res.) Shemesh is a nail artist and nail studio owner from Hadera, and an officer with Home Front Command’s search-and-rescue unit. 

Shemesh was actually supposed to attend the Supernova music festival, but a last-minute change of plans had kept him home. Instead, he was called up for reserve duty, which effectively shut his business down for over 80 days. 

Recent social-media exposure has boosted the number of his Instagram followers, which now includes 2018 Eurovision Song Contest winner Netta Barzilai. 

Shemesh is now trying to regrow his list of clients, who all had to find alternative manicurists while he was away. 

Another example is Major (res.) Barak Gershon from 228th Infantry Bislamach Brigade. 

Gershon owns a dog-training company based in central Israel. Since the start of the war, Gershon has been fighting in Gaza and his business sustained a significant blow. 

A few weeks ago, Gershon appeared on national TV, asking Israelis to use his services if they are looking for a dog trainer. 

The response has been so overwhelming that when reached for comment, Gershon said he is not currently seeking additional media exposure. 

“I have been released from reserve duty in recent days, and am looking to rebuild the businesses in peace,” he told ISRAEL21c. 

Even independent tech business owners suffered blows. 

Former paratrooper and FID app founder Eyal Cohen was not called up for reserve duty following the October 7 attacks. However, the 41-year-old father of four volunteered and joined the fighting in Gaza with the Paratroopers Brigade. 

“I couldn’t stay home and watch the news. I had to be with all my comrades who were called up that day,” he told Channel 12. 

Cohen was severely wounded by an explosive device in Gaza’s Khan Yunis, requiring months-long rehabilitation. 

His business, which compares benefits of credit card companies, also sustained a hit. Cohen is now looking for investors to revive the venture. 

The best people in the world

The list of reserve duty soldiers fighting not only against terrorists but also against bureaucracy, is growing day by day. 

Several initiatives have already been established to help the reserve troops, who have been caught up in financial troubles during their service. 

Brothers and Sisters for Israel and The Jewish Agency recently announced the establishment of Support Business IL. The joint venture offers financial-aid packages to small businesses operated by reserve soldiers to help revive and continue their business activity. 

Zaks, who still hasn’t been released from reserve duty, remains optimistic.  

“I believe it’s going to be okay,” she adds. “I always say: ‘Our people are the best in the world.’”

When I ask Zaks if she thought about quitting the service, or not showing up for reserve duty at all, she remains adamant: “That thought never even crossed my mind. I would do it all over again if I had to. I’ll do everything for our country. It’s a no-brainer,” she says.

“And I’m staying here until it’s all over. Grit the teeth and keep moving. That’s life.” 

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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