Bergenfield man helps wounded Israeli soldier
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Bergenfield man helps wounded Israeli soldier

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Ari Ashkenas, left, and Benjy Hyman helped raise money for a prosthetic arm for Israeli soldier Izzy Ezagui. Courtesy One Family Fund

Bergenfield resident Benjy Hyman and former Florida resident Izzy Ezagui are nearly the same age and both are devoted to the State of Israel. Yet they might never have crossed paths if it weren’t for a mortar rocket that cost Ezagui his left arm.

Ezagui, 21, moved to Israel two years ago and joined an infantry unit of the Israel Defense Forces. During Operation Cast Lead in January, as his unit was at a base near the Gaza Strip before advancing to the war zone, a 125mm enemy shell landed a few meters from where he was sitting. He spent the next six months in the hospital.

During that lengthy stay, Ezagui had visitors nearly every day, organized by One Family Fund, a non-profit that provides financial, legal, and emotional assistance to victims of terrorism in Israel. Over the past eight years, it has distributed more than $20 million in direct aid.

“They help every terror victim and wounded soldier they can,” Ezagui told The Jewish Standard. “Their volunteers came to the hospital to visit, bring me pizza, give me massages, or just hang out. Through them, I met people higher up in the system and they offered to help.”

Though the Israeli government provided a basic prosthetic arm for Ezagui, it turned out to be of little use to him. One Family Fund pledged to get him whatever he needed, at whatever cost.

Here’s where Hyman came into the picture. A 22-year-old student at the University of Maryland, the Frisch School graduate decided to spend his summer as a One Family intern at its Teaneck branch office.

“I know a lot of people who’ve made aliyah and gone into the army,” said Hyman, “and I felt, as I was sitting here enjoying America, I needed to be doing a little more.”

He and Ari Ashkenas of Stamford, Conn., were given the task of organizing a fund-raising event of their choosing. “They didn’t tell us [right away] who it was going to be for,” said Hyman. After much brainstorming with One Family official Marty Radnor of Wayne, they hit on the idea of a casino night.

“The first step was having them line up a committee of 20 friends, mostly college students, to volunteer their help,” said Radnor. “We designed a business plan for the project and then Benjy and Ari had to go about finding a venue, entertainment, food, tables, prizes – all the details – and they did a great job from start to finish.”

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Izzy Ezagui speaks at the casino night.

Radnor initially did not think the event would attract more than 100 people. “But it just grew and grew, and it became clear to me that we’d have more than 250 people,” he said. He realized this could be a significant way to help Ezagui.

“Marty told us about Izzy a few weeks before [the event],” said Hyman.

They secured Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan for the Oct. 15 casino night, “a good location to target young professionals around our age,” said Hyman. With the help of committee members and supporters of One Family Fund, food was provided at cost, soft drinks and prizes were donated, and security and decorations were taken care of. Local businesses signed on as sponsors.

“It was raining that night, so we were worried – but all the people who had signed up came anyway, and we got more at the door,” said Hyman.

In all, about 350 college students and young professionals came out for an evening of craps, poker, roulette, blackjack, and wheel of fortune – raising about $65,000 toward a sophisticated prosthetic arm that may cost in the neighborhood of $110,000.

Ezagui addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support.

“I had not met him before the event,” said Hyman, an accounting major who plans on continuing his work with One Family. “Obviously he sacrificed a lot and he’s still in high spirits. He is very deserving of our assistance.”

Ezagui, now touring Florida with Radnor to raise the remaining funds, said “it was great seeing how much people cared.” Though still coping with “phantom” pain from his severed limb, Ezagui plans to return to Israel in a few weeks and even possibly continue army service in some capacity. His family now lives in Jerusalem.

“The prosthetic arm I have now is kind of useless,” he said. “The Israeli government can’t really do anything more for me. If One Family weren’t helping, there would be no possible way to raise the money for this.”

For information on donating to the Izzy Ezagui Fund, call 646-289-8600, ext. 202, or go to www.onefamilycasino.org.

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Ari Ashkenas, left, and Benjy Hyman helped raise money for a prosthetic arm for Israeli soldier Izzy Ezagui. Courtesy One Family Fund
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