By Cindy Mindell
On Aug. 9, 2001, Izzy Ezagui and his parents walked out of a laundromat next to the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem. Twenty minutes later, a suicide bomber entered the restaurant, killing 13 Israelis – including seven children – a pregnant American woman and a Brazilian tourist, and wounding 130 others.
The Ezagui family was visiting from Miami to celebrate Izzy’s bar mitzvah. The 13-year-old vowed that day to return to Israel and join the Israel Defense Forces. In 2007, he fulfilled his promise, enlisting as a volunteer. When his parents and three younger sisters made aliyah the following year, he joined up as a fulltime conscript. During Operation Cast Lead, Ezagui lost his left and dominant arm to a mortar attack. Two years later, he was allowed to return to a combat unit – the first person in Israel’s history to do so after suffering an injury of that magnitude – and went on to pass an officer-training course. He would go on to become a decorated squad commander and still serves as a reservist in the IDF Special Forces.
Now 27, Ezagui will tell his story at the Israel Bonds Dinner on Monday, June 6, 6 p.m., at Chez Josef in Agawam.
Ezagui speaks all over the world about his remarkable experience, and returns to Israel to participate in charity runs and to lead Taglit-Birthright trips, in addition to performing his military service.
“The source of my strength is tied to our history and to the people around me,” he says. “I don’t wake up in the morning and have that strength for every little thing I want to do, but because I grew up Jewish and know our history, I was very passionate about not allowing atrocities to happen again to the people that I care about. So that’s why serving in the IDF, which I see as a privilege, was so important to me and why I was able to find the strength to do it and then to do it again.”
Ezagui’s parents also played a significant role in his resolve. “Another source of strength is being surrounded by people who have faith in what I was trying to accomplish,” he says. “My parents, whether they wanted me to go back into the IDF or not, showed very early on that they believed it was possible. They were even arguing with each other – should he do it, should he not do it – and I wasn’t focused on where their opinions swayed; I was focused on the fact that they were both talking about it as if it was possible. They believed in me.”
While his parents and three younger sisters still live in Israel, Ezagui decided to return to the U.S. after being discharged from the IDF.
“When I finished my service, I didn’t know how I could continue fighting for my cause,” he says. “I realized that an extension of that cause could be coming to the U.S. and fighting on an equally important front, which is hasbara – advocacy – bolstering the people who already have faith in what I’m fighting for. I have no audience in Israel. I can do a lot more good here, as an English-speaker, as somebody who came from this part of the world. I have no regrets; I’m glad I came back.”
The Israel Bonds dinner will honor several Western Massachusetts Jewish community leaders with the organization’s Star of David Award. The award is presented to those who, in the spirit of King David, have demonstrated a devotion to the land and people of Israel through exceptional leadership.
This year’s honorees include: Judy Herrell and Stephan Wurmbrand, Congregation B’nai Israel; Dalia and Rabbi Max Davis, Congregation B’nai Torah; Sylvia, Armand and Michael Edery, Congregation Rodphey Sholom; Rhoda and Sherwin “Ozzie” Wernick, Congregation Sons of Zion; Susanne Simon, Sinai Temple; and Esta and Paul Farkas, Temple Beth El.
For more information contact Barbara Starr at (860) 656-2110 or Barbara.email@example.com.