IDF soldier Izzy Ezagui speaks with UMD students

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By Daniel Ofman, staff writer, @OfmanDaniel

Izzy Ezagui

Izzy Ezagui spoke at Van Munching Hall as part of this university’s Israel Week sponsored by Maryland Hillel. Daniel Ofman/Mitzpeh

Izzy Ezagui, an Israel Defense Force volunteer from Miami who later became a one-armed squad commander, spoke at Van Munching Hall on April 27 about the importance of taking an active role in supporting and defending the State of Israel.

As students shuffled into the hall, Ezagui sat calmly in the front row and waited to be introduced. He sat cross-legged, sporting a “Williamsburg, Brooklyn hipster haircut,” as he jokingly called it and a sleek leather jacket.

Ezagui started to speak with a heavy, authentic sounding Israeli accent, inserting many drawn out “eh’s” and rolling his “r’s.” After a few minutes, he dropped the accent and began to speak flawless English, getting a nice kick out of tricking most of the crowd. With his pleasant sense of humor and reverent demeanor, Ezagui captivated the audience, who paid close attention to every word as Ezagui told his story.

Ezagui started his service for the IDF in 2008. Soon after he finished his training, war broke out on the Gaza border and the military initiated Operation Cast Lead.

“I threw on my fatigues, kissed my mother goodbye, and I was out the door,” Ezagui said.

Ezagui didn’t want to tell his mother where he was stationed. He told her he was located in the north on the border with Lebanon.

“I kept lying to her,” Ezagui said. “I wanted to keep her safe. I didn’t want her to worry.”

During Operation Cast Lead, when Ezagui’s squad was on the verge of entering Gaza, he had to decide what he should tell his mother. A few days later, the decision was made for him. Ezagui got hit by a mortar rocket, and consequently lost his left arm.

When Ezagui reached this part of the story, he stopped and told everyone in the hall to do a simple task: tie their shoes using one hand. Most of the audience struggled with the task.

“Now imagine trying to do the same thing with your weaker hand,” Ezagui said.

Ezagui didn’t let the loss of his dominant arm stop him. He quickly made the decision to return to the army and continue serving in a combat unit. He was determined to return to full form and learn to adapt to his new situation.

“Soon I was running again and doing pushups,” he said. “The problem was that no one would listen when I said I wanted to return to combat.”

Then Ezagui met Yoav Galant, the IDF commander of the Southern Command. Ezagui was surprised to hear how willing Galant was to help him.

“He said, ‘Okay, if it makes sense you’ll go back to combat,’ and thankfully, Galant was a man of his word,” Ezagui said.

Ultimately, Ezagui recovered and was able to return to combat form. Upon completing his service, he joined a Special Forces unit where he continues to serve in the reserves.

“He used his injury as a way to motivate himself and motivate other people,” sophomore astronomy major Yoni Brande said. “It’s an interesting story for a bunch of American college students to listen to.”

For the past two years, Ezagui has been speaking at conferences, college campuses, synagogues and other venues across the United States, motivating people to take an active role in support of Israel. He said that supporting Israel on college campuses is crucial for the future of the nation.

“It’s a very inspiring story and it’s good to have someone that you could easily relate to,” senior bioengineering major Ben Ellison said. “It allows you to relate to the person speaking and you relate more to the cause that he’s supporting.”

During the question stage of the event, an audience member asked what it’s been like to tell his story across the United States for the past two years.

“Speaking has been a cathartic experience,” he said.

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