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Disarmed but not disheartened: the story of a one-armed soldier turned screenwriter

Photo courtesy of Izzy Ezagui.

What could compel an ordinary American teen to leave his comfortable home in Miami, Florida to join an army in a faraway country?

At the age of 19, Izzy Ezagui, along with the rest of his family, made aliyah (immigration to Israel). Ezagui joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), only to lose his left and dominant arm in an enemy rocket attack that nearly took his life.

Days after the injury, Ezagui already had his eyes set on return to combat. His motivation came from not only his love for the sole country that promises a safe haven to all Jews amidst their trying history, but the desire to prove to himself and others that he could and would finish what he started.

When asked how he believed to be capable of such a feat before even regaining the ability to tie his shoes, Ezagui responded with a simple, “Drugs.” He explained that he was on a mixture of potent medications following his injury, and these had an impact on his judgment.

Drugged or not, Ezagui accomplished something that few others have dreamed of attempting.  Named after his maternal grandfather, Isidoro, rather than the State of Israel, the 33-year-old details his remarkable story in his memoir Disarmed: Unconventional Lessons from the World’s Only One-Armed Special Forces Sharpshooter.

Published in 2018, the book was a seven-year writing endeavor that underwent three different drafts under more than one editor. Despite possessing neither a high school diploma, nor college degree, Ezagui writes with a vocabulary level comparable to that of a university professor. 

An avid reader since his youth, Ezagui now consumes at least one full screenplay a day, calling it his “favorite form of procrastination.” This is while he is not working on his current project, Semite, a movie about an Orthodox Jew who gets himself locked up to exact revenge on the person who performed a hate crime against his family. 

A self-taught screenplay writer, Ezagui single-handedly learned the tools of the trade without any formal education. Though accepted to the American Film Institute (AFI) prior to COVID-19, he ultimately forfeited offer due to the pandemic, as well as personal preferences.

While joining the IDF Special Forces unit after losing a limb proved to be an impressive feat, according to Ezagui, “trying to break into Hollywood is way harder than trying to get back into combat with one arm.”  

Ezagui in uniform.

Before the pandemic, Ezagui made a living by sharing his story throughout the country, speaking for organizations such as the Jewish Federation, AIPAC, the Jewish National Fund, and Chabad, just to name a few.

COVID-19 brought these speaking engagements to a halt, which Ezagui is partly grateful for, as it allows him more time to focus on his writing.

However, Ezagui chooses not to create a film depicting his own story. Instead, his theme of choice is the weird and unusual.

“Things that make people uncomfortable,” he said. “Maybe I’m just trying to make people feel how I feel.”

And just how does he feel? Well, the loss of his left arm left Ezagui with phantom pain, an excruciating sensation coming from a missing body part,which still haunts him to this day.

Despite this, there are hardly any daily tasks that Ezagui finds challenging, aside from perhaps cutting steak, though nowadays he eats a plant-based diet.

Following his injury, one of the concerns Ezagui expressed in his book was the fear that women would not accept him for his disability; however, this aesthetic particularity has not proven to be a barrier to dating.

“Most days, I don’t even remember that I’m missing an arm,” he related.

While Ezagui maintains a close relationship with his family, there were certain details about his life that remained hidden until the publication of his book, such as his first time at a strip club, or the time he purposefully broke his foot while in the army as an excuse to go home once learning of his father’s imprisonment.

Ezagui’s army days do not stop there; he would return to the IDF regularly as part of the reserves.

He has even watched rockets fly toward him as they did on that fateful day in 2009, but thanks to the advent of the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, these rockets are intercepted.

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Ezagui has not set foot on the battlefield for the past few years, but he considers going back, likening the experience to hitting the “factory reset” button on everyday life.

In the meantime, Ezagui plans to travel the US in a repurposed school bus with his trusty Shiba Inu, Punch, whom he calls his “closest friend.”

Though his nature remains humble (read: virtually unable to take a compliment), Ezagui’s views on life have changed somewhat since his teenage years, as he now adheres to a mindset of stoicism, which idealizes focusing on that which you can control while putting aside that which you cannot. 

“People change,” Ezagui stated matter-of-factly. Recalling how, as mentioned early on in his book, he used to avoid eating the green Mike N Ikes, nowadays, “I’ll eat all the colors of the Mike N Ikes, now,” he said.

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