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A call to abs! The IDF reserves

On why he's pumping iron in Brooklyn to get in shape for an army training exercise he could easily skip out on

One moment I’m procrastinating – scrolling through my Facebook feed when I should be working, munching on a killer glazed donut – the next, I’m frantically searching the web for a reasonably priced gym. It all started with an unassuming red blot that lit up my inbox.

The note came from my close friend, Yaniv, who also happens to be the lieutenant to whom I report in the reserves. “Hey Izzy, what’s up with you over the next two weeks? Any chance you’re visiting DC? I’ll be there for work.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “Oh, and our unit’s been drafted for training up north the first week of June. You coming?”

Of course I’m coming, and he knows it. Since my return to the United States, I haven’t missed a day of reserve duty – not once since the IDF released me from active service at the tail end of 2011. But June? We weren’t scheduled to draft until November. Why call us up so early? And why are we training up North? ISIS? I purchase my airfare before nightfall—I’ve already found a gym that’ll whip me back into shape.

Throughout Israel’s relatively brief history, there have been many IDF veterans, women and men who live abroad but return to Israel; they’ve taken up arms when the Jewish State needed them most. But I’ve met only a couple others like me—young men who return to Israel each year at their own expense to train with their counterparts in the Special Forces. Our logic? If we’re inevitably going to head into the fog of war with our Israeli brothers, then we should know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We need to work out the chinks in our phalanx so that when the lead starts flying our responses are fluid, a reaction bred into the blood and muscle by intense, repetitive training.

Benny Gantz visiting Izzy's Unit during a reservist training mission
Benny Gantz visiting Izzy’s Unit during a reservist training mission

When people learn of my unusual routine, I can count on one of two stock reactions. American Jews tend to ooh and aah: “You still go back to the IDF? That’s amazing! Keep it up, Izzy.” On the other hand, the average Israeli expat shakes his head, muttering “פרייר” (“Fryer”). So they think I’m a sucker – a chump American towing Israel’s line. I served my time. So why don’t I retire now to my comfy American cocoon?

I’ll tell you why. As the draft gets closer – only a week away now – I’ve come to realize I’m an anti-fryer, in fact. As hard as I fight and as much as I give, I get more out of my reserve service than Israel will ever get out of me.

I’m reminded of that paradox as I pant this afternoon on a treadmill. This ritual of my return to service catalyzes the engine of my commitment, and hurls me into overdrive. That’s why a few days after Yaniv’s call to arms, I’m cursing myself, literally (in between the huffing and the puffing). Why in God’s name did I allow things to get this bad? If my body were, say, a temple, then the Romans have been sacking it all year long. Plundering its riches. Burning its stores. I remind myself that the first few days back in training are always murder. Getting rid of the rust on my neglected muscles is like trying to remove spray paint with a dry squeegee. Clearing the dust from my stagnant lungs is like asking an asthmatic kid to blow leaves into a pile using a Krazy Straw… you get the idea. But every day gets easier.

And after only two short weeks in the gym, I lose twelve pounds. That’s the miracle of actually moving muscles other than those that operate your jaw. In fact, the only reason I haven’t continued shedding weight is because I’m replacing useless mass with heavier muscle. I’m eating healthier, too, of course—and I’ve used the draft as an excuse to stop drinking completely.

A week ago I took my training up a notch. The time came to heft my 40-pound training vest out of the closet. Alas, gone are the days when during training, a guy could march across the Williamsburg Bridge and into Manhattan, openly wearing a multi-pocketed weight vest! The less said about how I know this for certain, the better, but suffice it to say I gave it a shot, and, well, almost got shot. What’s suspicious about a profusely sweaty Semitic man marching alone along the sidewalk with his vest, one arm, and two furrowed and determined brows? After a few such uncomfortable encounters, I’ve begun wearing a sweater over my gear, which miraculously transforms me into an unassuming tubby guy fast-walking to Mickey D’s.

Why do I put myself through this? It’s OK if you think I’m insane. I think so, too, sometimes. But it’s not just about shedding pounds before the draft; it’s knowing that as a soon as, Boom! go the drums of war, I’ll be ready to form a link in the chain, a gear in the motor, a warrior-widget in that well-oiled machine that keeps our homeland safe.

The Jewish state will likely never thank me for my reserve service, and that’s OK. But I thank her: I’m grateful to Israel for subtracting pounds off my waistline, and adding such significance to this American life.

Training for Gaza during Operation Pillar Of Defense
Training for Gaza during Operation Pillar Of Defense

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About the Author
Izzy Ezagui, a decorated squad commander in the Israel Defense Forces, is the only soldier in the world who lost an arm in combat and returned to the battlefield. Izzy delivers inspirational talks across the United States and internationally. He's appeared on the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera America, and Fox News. The Algemeiner chose Izzy as one of 100 people positively influencing Jewish life. He has worked with amputee organization, schools, universities, hedge funds, and corporate events for companies such as Nike and Apple
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