Op-Ed: A Jewish Kid from Miami That Every American Should Hear
I am not going to praise him. From the short time we spent talking, I got the impression that he wouldn't appreciate it. Either way, he's just a regular American kid, a Star Wars geek no less, who happened to have been faced with extraordinary circumstances.
My simple aim is to use my soapbox to share his story, and explain why I think that amid the din of chattering voices that various media channels confront us with daily, his narrative is worth paying attention to.
His name is Izzy Ezagui, he is 23 years old, average height, has dark hair and an awkward smile. Like many young Jews, after visiting Israel a number of times throughout his childhood, at the age of 19 he decided to join Israel's Defense Forces. He was enrolled in the Kfir Brigade, Haruv Battalion, a non-elite combat infantry unit and went through basic training.
In late 2008 Israel launched Operation Cast Lead and his unit was directed to the battlefield. Three weeks into the campaign, while in a tent pitched at the Gaza border awaiting orders, "he was hit almost directly by a 120mm mortar shell instantly losing his left and dominant arm from just above the elbow." Three others were also wounded in the attack.
Bleeding profusely, yet fully conscious, he was able to make his way to a nearby shelter where he was treated by medics who quickly transferred him to a hospital in BeerSheva. After two surgeries and a year of rehabilitation he seemed set to join Israel's 50,000 strong community of disabled war veterans. Instead, he insisted on being allowed to return to his army role.
His request was unprecedented and initially met resistance from IDF officials who questioned his ability to execute basic army procedures. Izzy responded with innovative and practical suggestions. One example is captured in this paragraph from his yet unpublished memoir entitled, Look Mom, No Hand! The Memoirs of a One-Armed Combat Soldier;
"Yossi stopped the car as he was backing up and rolled down his window. ”Izzy, we didn't discuss throwing a grenade" he pointed out. "How do you do it?" he asked, assuming I had already found a solution. Damn... grenades had completely slipped my mind. Throughout training a soldier throws a grenade only once and usually doesn't throw one again unless it's during battle."
"The idea I came up with" he told me, "was to wrap hockey tape around the grenade's safety ring and yank it out with my teeth. My mother was of course unhappy with my solution because she was worried I would ruin my teeth."
Eventually he became the first soldier in Israeli history to return to combat after an injury as serious as his, and completed an officer's course. He led combat soldiers through their training, and received an award from the President of Israel. He tells me that he will return to Israel annually to report for reserve duty for as long as they will allow him.
On Saturday night Izzy launched a kickstarter campaign to raise funds that will allow for the publication of his memoir. As of the time of this writing, he has raised $8588 out of $30,000, from 96 different backers, and he has 33 days to go. On Facebook, his story has been spreading like wildfire. I have pledged my support and would encourage all to do the same; I believe that his voice deserves to be heard for the following reasons:
Firstly, it is only once in a rare while that the story of one man captures the story of a people and a relatively small moment in time reflects the journey of an era. Izzy's experience embodies the challenging narrative of modern day Jewish resurgence, and he calls on us all to face setbacks with renewed vigor and resolve. As nations, the United States and Israel have lost many limbs, but our commitment to our duty to defend and preserve our values and ideals must remain steadfast.
Secondly, around the world and on a daily basis, anti-Semites and media bandits work diligently to portray the IDF as a brute occupying force. Izzy's project presents an opportunity for ordinary well-meaning individuals to hear from, and interact with, a relatable true face of Israel's soldiers.
Understanding that the Jewish army is an unadulterated force for justice in this world, made up of individuals who ask first and foremost what they can give of themselves to others.