Disarmed: A one-armed sniper's return to the war front

Izzy Ezagui lost an arm during his IDF service – but returned to active duty as a sharpshooter.

By LIANE GRUNBERG WAKABAYASHI
June 23, 2018 14:20
2 minute read.
ISRAELI SOLDIERS stand guard during confrontations with Palestinian protesters in 2014

ISRAELI SOLDIERS stand guard during confrontations with Palestinian protesters in 2014. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

 
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Izzy Ezagui is the one and only onearmed sniper in the IDF – and likely the world – to voluntarily re-enlist and return to active duty after losing an arm. The American fighter has now penned a memoir of sorts, titled Disarmed: Unconventional Lessons from the World’s Only One-Armed Special Forces Sharpshooter.

Ezagui was injured in a mortar fire attack during Operation Cast Lead, the devastating three-week war in Gaza in 2009. But despite his horrible injury and loss, Ezagui has written a laughout- loud account of being outwardly courageous and soothing his own inner wimp. He saves a drowning woman in rough waters off the coast of Herzliya. He prepares for re-entry into active duty as an IDF soldier by teaching himself how to cock and shoot a gun with one hand and a stump. Eventually he is decorated for his active service, becoming a commander in an elite canine unit of the Israeli Army.

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This memoir is mainly the story of Ezagui’s return to the war front. But as if losing his arm on the cusp of his 20th birthday isn’t enough hardship, there’s more bad news – conversely, great memoir material – to contend with. His father, who lives in Crown Heights, is under house arrest and on his way to prison. Despite standing accused of misappropriating deeds belonging to members of the Chabad Lubavitch community, the senior Ezagui remains Izzy’s hero. When he writes that he’d gladly serve half his father’s prison term if the option were available, we believe his tender feelings for his father are genuine and come from a well of trust. Here’s a young man who can see no wrong in his convicted father and touchingly, can see no right in himself.

“Sure, I believe in the soul. I just don’t believe I have one,” Ezagui writes.

In addition to the military and familiar trials and tribulations of Ezagui’s young life, he has experienced a roller-coaster spiritual journey as well.

Ezagui grew up secular in Miami, and then ultra-Orthodox in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. At age 13, he was sent to study at a Chabad yeshiva at the edge of the Tucson Mountains, where feelings of being a misfit grew.

“Despite the heat, I wear a black hat and suit, as is the custom. All around me are black-clad men, mean-spirited cacti, majestic mares, and little else. I already know how everything turns out: Family. Life. The afterlife. I’ll be married shortly after my 18th birthday – that’s only five years off. My wife will be far more pious than I – just like my mother and father. She’ll cover her knees and elbows, her hair – and still pull off sexy with ease. We’ll have seven or eight children – all boys – with long, loopy sideburns and IQs of 130 and above. They’ll all have an enthusiasm for Torah study far exceeding mine, which will give their mother and me tremendous naches – lots of pride.”

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Ezagui leaves that world behind by the time he decides to enlist in the IDF.

This one-armed soldier does his best to make light of the ups and downs of his life and he does so by aspiring to a noble mission; completing active duty in the IDF no matter what. He is a man in a compromised body deserving of recognition and pining for love.

For anyone who doesn’t believe they’re good enough, smart enough, strong enough, or have enough limbs to succeed at life, Disarmed offers a powerful read.

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