Motivational speaker, philanthropist and actor Izzy Ezagui spoke recently at a special event hosted by the Chabad Jewish Center of Rancho Santa Fe. The Aug. 15 soiree was held at a private residence in the Ranch. Guests had the opportunity to hear the inspirational words of the American-born Miami native, who had a calling to join the Israel Defense Forces to help protect his Jewish heritage.
Guests were moved after learning how this decorated squad commander, who was a regarded sharpshooter for the special forces, lost his left arm after a mortar shell landed nearby during the Operation Cast Lead combat in January 2009.
He found the inner strength six months later to pass the rigorous physical tests letting him re-enlist back into his combat unit as a sharpshooter.
Ezagui told guests that despite the harsh combination of realities after his injury in 2009, he knew from the very moment that he woke up that he wanted to continue his service.
“I still had more to offer,” he said. “I remember sharing that sentiment with my parents the first time that I was lucid in the hospital bed about three days after the injury.”
While his father had a hard time accepting such an idea, Ezagui said his mother shared how regardless of how they felt, they needed to stand behind their son.
“I didn’t care whether or not they wanted me to do it — I was focused on the fact that they were both talking about it as if it was possible,” Ezagui said.
When Ezagui came to terms that he wanted to return to the battlefield, he explained that he had a few obstacles. While it took months for the physical wound to heal, he said, it took some time to have his mobility return.
“It took even longer for me to figure out how to take care of myself again, how to do all of those simple tasks that I could no longer do. But the wound did heal, and I did figure out how to survive the disability in the end,” he said.
It was the baby steps — the milestones. Walking turned into jogging, and jogging turned into running, Ezagui shared. And then he mastered push-ups, climbed ropes and completed the military training obstacle courses once again.
“Eventually I was reinstated to active duty combat. I spent four to five months in Hebron finally realizing my dream of protecting the Jewish people,” said Ezagui, adding how happy he wasn’t at a training base. “They (Israel Defense Forces) actually sent me back to active duty, which was a dream come true. I finished my active service leading a squad of 13 soldiers through their advanced training.”
He also received top military honors from former President Shimon Peres.
Ezagui’s story has been aired on Fox News, Huffington Post Life and other media outlets. While delivering an inspirational message in his talks, he is also heavily involved in fundraising for various charities, hospitals and programs aimed at rehabilitation. Recently, Ezagui published a memoir entitled, “Disarmed: Unconventional Lessons from the World’s Only One-Armed Special Forces Sharpshooter.”
Following his talk, guests had the opportunity to ask Ezagui questions, including some about his commitment to serving in the Reserves.
“I will continue being in the Reserves for as long as my body allows,” he said.