On April 8th, CAMERA Fellow Danielle Haberer organized an event at the USF Hillel hosting Izzy Ezagui, an American Jew who joined the IDF at age 18. The focus of the event was on Ezagui’s experience in the Israeli army, and his inspirational and unusual story.
Originally from New York, Ezagui celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Israel at the age of 13. He became inspired to join the IDF and prevent terrorism against innocent Israelis after he and his family visited Jerusalem, and left the area only a few minutes ahead of where a retaliatory Hamas explosion killed 15 people inside a pizzeria. A Birthright Israel trip in 2006 cemented his desire to make Aliyah, and one year later, he joined up with the Israel Defense Forces.
After just nine months of initial military training, Ezagui and his brigade were sent to guard the border between Israel and Gaza as part of “Operation Cast Lead.” While inside his tent, he was directly struck by a mortal shell. The explosion shattered his elbow and tore off most of his left–- and dominant—arm. Others in his tent were also gravely wounded.
One might presume that under the circumstances, the pain and trauma of losing a limb might deter a young man from wanting to continue to pursue his military career. For Ezagui, it was just the opposite. More than anything, he wanted to be right back at the front line and in a combat position. This desire, however, was met with great resistance from his doctors, from Israeli officials and even from Prime Minister Netanyahu. But Ezagui was insistent, and eventually proved, through a series of challenging physical and mental battlefield tests, that he was capable of resuming his position as an active-duty combat soldier. Five months later, he became the first amputee soldier to ace a commander-training test (an accomplishment that is difficult for even the most hardy and fit two armed soldier).
Ezagui went on to serve in an elite commander unit and in 2011, Israeli president Shimon Peres awarded him the highest accolade a soldier outside the battlefield can receive. Today, back in civilian life in the US, he continues to promote Israel and the IDF, and gives inspirational and motivational speeches all over the world.
When asked why he chose to return to the US after serving in the army, he said that he believed he could do more good for Israel by speaking about his experiences around the country.
Students who attended the event were not only inspired by Ezagui’s story, but also gained a deeper understanding of what motivates so many Americans to join the IDF. Students agreed that hearing about Ezaguis experience and his passion for Israel and the IDF was humbling.
“The only thing standing between you and your dream is yourself,” says Ezagui. “Regardless of the severity of any situation, we have options, and the toughest of them offers the greatest personal growth.”
To request information about Izzy Ezagui speaking to your group, contact http://izzy-speaks.com/about/
Contributed by CAMERA intern Nikki Teperman