8.28.15 Issue

by Sherrie Saag, Communications, Jewish Federation Omaha

Strength, courage, passion, conviction and fortitude.  Words that certainly describe Lone Soldier Izzy Ezagui. He will visit Omaha on Sept. 9 and 10 and is making a special appearance for Jewish Omaha teens on Sept. 9 at 6 p.m. at the JCC as part of the Federation 2016 Annual Campaign.

At 19 years old, Izzy left the comfort and security of a Miami upbringing and joined the Israel Defense Forces.

His inspiring story will resonate with teens and is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.

“I didn’t know a word of Hebrew,” Izzy had recalled. “It was really difficult.” He admits he wasn’t fully contemplating the risks. “Naïve is not even the word for how I was,” he said. “I was stupid. I was an 18-year-old kid… I didn’t really think much about it, and I was definitely not scared. I didn’t overthink it.”

After nine months of training, his brigade was sent to the Gaza border where, shortly after, he was struck by a mortar shell. Izzy lost his dominant left arm in the attack.

“The mortars should have killed me and all my friends on the spot,” he said. “Yet when I woke up after surgery, I had this intense desire to return to my unit. I decided from day one I wanted to go back to the army, and back to combat.”

Izzy best describes his frame of mind at the time. “My injury hadn’t occurred for any profound reason, and nothing would come of this mess—unless I made it happen myself. What could I do that would salvage this nightmare and turn it into success? Then it hit me. I had to go back.” At the time, his thoughts included, “How could I inspire the soldiers around me? How could I not help ignite a passion in those who want to stand up for Israel?”

His request, however, was met with strong resistance from Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who nicely told the teen that he could not rejoin the IDF in a military position, Izzy remembered.

Izzy wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was persistent; crediting the “chutzpah” he said he learned from other Israelis.

“I thought, ‘What’s the most amazing thing I can do with my situation?’ And I realized right away it was going back. And that was something that was just unheard of.”

He was repeatedly turned down until Yoav Gallant, Israel’s General of Southern Command at the time, said “Okay” when Izzy asked to return to the front lines.

He needed to retest and had to figure out everything from scratch, un-jamming an assault rifle, reloading guns, climbing rope and jumping over 7-foot walls. Then, he was asked how he planned to use a grenade.

“I finally figured out that if I wrap enough scotch tape around the pin I could yank it out with my teeth,” he said. “And that’s how I throw grenades.”

Five months later Izzy passed a commander training test – the first soldier in Israel’s army to ace the exam with such a disability.

Now that he’s returned to civilian life, he hopes to serve as proof that anyone can reach even the most unattainable goal if armed with passion and a refusal to take no for an answer. “I could have been dead. I’m not. I could have left the service and the commitment that brought me to Israel. I didn’t. Regardless of the severity of a situation, we have options, and often the toughest of them offer the greatest personal growth.”

Don’t let your teens miss meeting this incredible young man and hearing his story in person. Bring them to the JCC campus with their friends on Sept. 9. For more information, contact Steve Levinger, Chief Development Officer, slevinger@jewishomaha.org.

            Foxnews.com and The Times of Israel contributed to this story.