Jake Laznik, an American Jew from Florida, fulfilled his dream of joining the elite Golani Brigade and proudly donning his IDF uniform for the first time on November 22.
Just five days later, wearing that same uniform, he found himself crushed under a car in the West Bank, the victim of another in the seemingly endless wave of terror attacks that has cast a shadow over Israeli life for the past three months.
Laznik - his chest and arms covered with large scabs, his leg in a cast - now lies in an incongruously cheerful teenage girl’s bedroom in the Tel Aviv suburban home of his Israeli relatives. His mother Debbie, fresh off a plane from the family’s home in Boca Raton, Florida is cuddled up protectively beside him, as if Jake was a nine-year-old boy, not a 19-year-old soldier.
Laznik was mowed down by a terrorist next to a bus stop in a car-ramming attack on November 27.
He had been a target, ironically enough, as an indirect result of the fact that he had celebrated Thanksgiving. Laznik had been given the day off in order to attend a special Thanksgiving meal for U.S.-born lone soldiers in Tel Aviv. He and a group of his fellow soldiers had then spent the night in the West Bank settlement of Alon - at the home of one of the counselors at the kibbutz that served as their “home base” during army service - and they were waiting for a bus to take them back north to the kibbutz the next morning.
“Suddenly a car came out of nowhere, hit my friend and me - and then it stopped. My left leg was under the tire and I couldn’t move,” recounted Laznik. “At first I didn’t understand it was a terrorist attack - so I was trying to get out and I was shouting at the driver to move the car. And then, after a few seconds, the terrorist came out of the car. And I realized it was a terrorist attack. My friend was also under the car but there weren’t any tires on him. So once the terrorist got out, he was able to stand up somehow. The terrorist didn’t see me because I was on the other side of the car that he was - I was on the passenger side. I was pinned down but I could still see him get out of the car. When my friend got up, he ran over towards him. And they wrestled for a bit and then my friend ran away and jumped over the railing to the other side of the road, and the terrorist jumped over after him. But by the time he jumped over the railing, there was someone in the area who had a pistol and shot him,” killing him on the spot.
Laznik said he said he didn’t have time to fear for his life while he was pinned under the car. “I just watched it play out, it all happened really fast. I just lay there and watched everything unfold.”
Meanwhile in Boca Raton, his mother Debbie was completely unprepared for the bad news. When her son first joined army, she “had many fears” of him being wounded or killed. But those fears, she said, were associated with battlefields, not bus stops - and she had known that Jake would have to go through eight months of intensive training before he would enter combat duty. “I figured I would have time to get used to it.”
It turned out that she didn’t have that luxury. She remembers checking the news from Israel on her computer before going to sleep on Thursday, seeing there were two soldiers hurt in an early morning car ramming incident in the West Bank. The news was as disturbing as any report of a terror attack - but the possibility that her son could have been one of the victims never crossed her mind. She hadn’t known he was being released for Thanksgiving or that he was spending the night at his counselor’s house.
So a few hours later, after the phone call came from the mother of one of her son’s friends, she and her husband spent a sleepless night on the telephone to Israel to the hospital, trying to find out the extent of her son’s injuries. It turned out he was as lucky as possible under the circumstances. The leg under the car had been badly bruised but not broken - his other leg was broken from the impact of the car and his upper body badly scraped - later it turned out he broke a bone in his hand as well. He was quickly released to recuperate at a relative’s home.
It wasn’t until she was there, by his side, that Debbie said she was able to process what happened. Debbie was no stranger to Israeli reality - she had come to study in Israel shortly after the first Lebanon war broke out. It was in Israel that she met Jake’s father, an emigrant from Peru, at the age of 19. The couple settled in the United States and although the family’s connection to Israel was strong, Debbie said she hadn’t imagined either of her two sons would feel driven to enlist in the IDF.
But Jake said that upon arrival at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program, he “clicked instantly” and knew he wanted to stay in Israel and join the army. His parents balked, insisting he try a gap year in Israel first, on the Young Judea year course, thinking that he might change his mind.
But after Jake “came home last December, he looked completely Israeli, so happy and comfortable in his own skin, I said ‘he’s doing the right thing,’” and she decided to support his determination to enlist, Debbie recalled.
She said she is still coming to terms with the fact that a Ramallah resident in his 30’s would aim his car at her child with deadly intent. The terrorist was the brother of the man who attempted to run over a group of Israelis at the same Kfar Adumim bus stop just five days earlier. The incident, she said, has been a challenge to her politics, which have always leaned left. “I’m very sensitive to the legitimate desires and grievances of Palestinians and I think they deserve their own country.”
She also said she’s always been a defender of the New York Times against those bashing it and accusing it of being anti-Israel, but had an angry personal moment when saw the headline about the incident and another attack that day was “Palestinians Killed After Hit and Run Attacks.” It was later changed following complaints, to “Palestinians Killed After Attacks on Troops.”
“I saw that first headline and I was shaking with anger. I felt violated.”
Debbie says that while she’s confident her son will recover physically, she’s worried about long-term emotional trauma.
He insists he’s fine. “Maybe I’m not as scarred or traumatized as I should be. I’m just sort of pissed off that I finally joined the army and this happened. I’ve wanted to join the army for a while, it finally happened and I was so relieved. And I’d had a great first week and I was so excited to go back.”
Laznik says he is committed to staying and rejoining his Golani unit, though he knows he needs to fully recover first. “I really hope I recover fast enough.”
But even if he can’t, leaving the army - or the country - he says, isn’t an option for him. “Even though this has happened, I’m still a hard-core Zionist, and I feel like if I left [the terrorists] would win and that’s what they want us to do - just leave. Now I know better than most people that this is the reality. Not that I had issues with justifying doing the army anyway, but this showed me the purpose of why I’m doing this, why this country need so much protection.”
His mother, though worried, says she still respects that decision. “Everyone back in the States is saying, ‘so, you are going to bring him back home, right?’ I tell them I’m not - but he’s going to be OK.”
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