A decorated Israel Defense Forces soldier who lost an arm in a mortar attack but was inspired to return to the battlefield will help inspire donors as the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks kicks off its annual campaign.
The Sunday, Oct. 19, event at the Greenacres Country Club in Lawrenceville will jumpstart the campaign, which began Sept. 1. Despite a year marked by economic setbacks, federation executive director Andrew Frank said leaders are entering the new year with a sense of optimism.
He cited the cohesiveness demonstrated at a pro-Israel rally in July that brought out 650 community members.
“Our theme is that all Jews are responsible for one another,” said Frank. “This community realizes, as that rally showed, that the Jewish community has to stand together.”
Frank pointed out that funds raised by federation help Jews in Israel and in 70 countries around the world, as well as in the local area, including those who benefit from the services of Greenwood House seniors’ facility in Ewing and Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.
“A gift to federation reaches people in places you may never have heard of and may never see,” he said.
Linda Hurwitz, national campaign chair and immediate past president and chair of Women’s Philanthropy for the Jewish Federations of North America, will also speak.
Former national AIPAC president Lonny Kaplan, currently serving on the pro-Israel lobby’s board, will be honored. A former chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, Kaplan also served as president of a forerunner organization of the PMB federation.
‘Determined to inspire’
Keynote speaker Izzy Ezagui lost his dominant left arm about three years ago on the Gaza border. The Brooklyn resident became the only IDF member ever to return to the battlefield after losing a limb, learning to shoot assault rifles with one hand and throw grenades by pulling the pin with his teeth.
In a phone interview with NJJN, Ezagui said that after he attended a Chabad yeshiva in Miami, he went on a Birthright Israel trip at age 18, for which he thanked the federation movement. “Federation is a massive contributor to Birthright,” he said.
The former soldier said he had previously traveled to Israel for his bar mitzva, but after extending his Birthright trip for three weeks, he decided to join the IDF. Despite their initial reluctance in having their son join the military, his parents shortly thereafter made aliya.
Ezagui’s s unit was searching for underground tunnels used by terrorists to enter Israel when he suffered his injury.
“Unfortunately I never lost consciousness so I remember every single detail,” he said. As he was being wheeled into Soroka Medical Center, he spied a horde of reporters. Fearing that his mother — who believed he was assigned to washing dishes in Lebanon — would recognize him on the news, he pulled the blood-stained blanket on his stretcher over his head with his remaining arm.
In the hospital, Ezagui told his parents of his resolve to fulfill his service obligations; they supported his decision. “I was determined to show others what service meant to me and inspire them,” said Ezagui, who still suffers phantom pain from his injury. “It was almost not even a choice.”
In May 2011 Israeli President Shimon Peres awarded him Israel’s highest accolade for military service.
Now back in Brooklyn, although still in the IDF reserves, Ezagui has no regrets about his service.
With Israel now under attack for its recent actions in Gaza as part of Operation Protective Edge, Ezagui said, “It is important to be mini-ambassadors for Israel.”
“If you hear Israel accused of something, step up and say it’s not so, and an important factor in that is educating yourself properly,” he said. “The kids who go over there to fight from the U.S. are taking part in the global fight against terror, not just fighting for Israel. Israel is almost acting like the arm of the U.S. in the Middle East.
“Fighting for one is like fighting for the other.”