A decorated former Israel Defense Forces soldier who lost an arm in battle — but insisted on returning to his unit to serve again — will speak about his journey from Brooklyn to battlefield during the annual Major Donors/Vanguard event, being held for the first time with both Middlesex and Monmouth federation donors.
Izzy Ezagui sustained the traumatic injury about three years ago during a mortar explosion on the Gaza border. Even though he lost his dominant left arm, he returned to his elite unit after learning to shoot assault rifles with one hand and throw grenades by pulling the pin with his teeth.
Both communities have held annual major donor events for their campaigns (for donors of $5,000 or more annually in Middlesex, $6,000 or more annually in Monmouth); both federations are now planning this joint event in anticipation of a merger of the two philanthropies in the coming months.
The event, Looking Forward: One Vision for the Future, will be held Thursday, Sept. 18, in the Monroe home of Sam and Laurie Landy, who — though they live in Middlesex County — are serving as the Monmouth cochairs.
“I live only a mile from Monmouth, lots of my family lives in Monmouth, and I support both Monmouth and Middlesex federations, so I think it’s very apropos,” said Laurie Landy.
She said she and her husband also took on their roles because “we’re huge supporters of Israel as one of the foundations of Judaism. No matter what level of practice you are — Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox — my husband and I see us all as Jews, and federation embraces that.”
Serving as Middlesex cochairs are Roy and Brenda Tanzman and Keith and Tammy Zimmerman, all of Kendall Park.
“Federation provides a lot of services and funds to those less fortunate than we are, and the Vanguard event is the kickoff to our campaign,” said Keith Zimmerman. “It sets the tone for the rest of the year.”
Ezagui grew up in Brooklyn, where he now lives. In a phone interview with NJJN, he said that after attending a Chabad yeshiva in Miami, he went on a Birthright trip at age 18, which strengthened his connection with Israel and convinced him to serve in the military. Speaking at a federation event is particularly meaningful to him, he said, because the free Birthright trip program is supported by federation.
He said he “technically” made aliya after that visit to join the IDF. Though he was urged not to return to service after the attack, he insisted on fulfilling his obligations even after six or seven months of hospitalization and rehabilitation.
“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.
With Israel now under attack, Ezagui said it is important for supporters to act as “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.”