The most immediately striking things about Sahar Elbaz, a Business and Entrepreneurship student at IDC Herzliya, are his humility and sense of purpose. “What saved me is my training and practice and a force higher than me,” he says.
During Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Gaza war, Elbaz was a lone soldier serving in the Rimon Unit, an elite commando unit then part of the Givati Brigade. Sent into the Rafah area in the Gaza Strip with his unit, he was acting as a lookout while his fellow soldiers were on a mission to destroy a Hamas-built tunnel inside a mosque, when the building came under attack.
Everything happened within seconds. Five Hamas terrorists, armed with Kalashnikovs and grenades, ran towards Elbaz and the other lookouts. The commander ordered the soldiers to take cover. Elbaz pressed himself against the building’s wall and began to shoot back, but just as the terrorists came within a few meters of him, his weapon jammed. He describes those terrifying moments calmly.
“As I was responding to the fire, my weapon locked up, but I was able to overcome this quickly without losing eye contact with them,” he says. “I continued firing and killed four terrorists. This all happened within 15 seconds. In that moment I felt a rush of adrenaline that is hard to describe.”
The fifth terrorist was killed by another soldier when Elbaz ran into the mosque for cover.
At the time, Elbaz thought his actions had simply been within the norm of what was expected of him. However, a few weeks later he was notified that he would receive a special award, the IDF Chief of Staff’s Citation, for his extraordinary actions and bravery in the face of fire.
After the incident, Elbaz discovered the astonishing coincidence that his Moroccan-born grandfather, who had made aliyah in 1960 and joined the IDF, served in exactly the same area during the Six Day War.
Elbaz was born and raised in Orange County, California, the middle child between two sisters. He describes his family as inspirational, with core Jewish values and a dedication to the Jewish people. Elbaz says his upbringing emphasized “doing something bigger than yourself, and having a greater purpose.” He says he was inspired to make aliyah by the story of his grandfather’s aliyah and military service, as well as his father who had served as a lieutenant colonel in the IDF engineering corps. The Elbaz family epitomized Moroccan inter-generational devotion to Israel.
At the age of 18, Elbaz decided to leave the US and moved to Israel, joining the IDF as a lone soldier.
Elbaz says his many more young people in his community have taken the significant step of moving to Israel to join the IDF. They include the youngest Elbaz sibling, Zohar, who also served as a lone soldier.
Today, both Sahar and Zohar Elbaz are studying at IDC. Zohar is also studying Business Management and Entrepreneurship. As well as studying for his degree, Elbaz founded and runs his own startup, Netzview, whose artificial intelligence-based system is designed to provide accurate medical imaging and detection. Asked how he manages to run his own company as well as study, he says simply, “There is something in the air at IDC.” He says that IDC enables students to be mentored by industry leaders while encouraging them to learn and practice outside the classroom and work on their own business initiatives.
IDC Herzliya provides a home and a supportive environment for students who leave their families and move to Israel to serve in the IDF as lone soldiers.
“Three hundred former lone soldiers have studied at the Raphael Recanati International School, and over 150 RRIS graduates are now serving in the IDF,” says RRIS Head and IDC vice president of External Relations Jonathan Davis.
“For me, as a former lone soldier and a lone student myself, the opportunity for me to be a part of this great Zionist mission is really coming full circle.”
As well as IDC’s assistance to lone soldiers, the Brian Knez Center for the Welfare of IDF Reserve Soldiers, a special department in the IDC Student Union, is dedicated to assisting students doing reserve military duty and protecting their rights. In addition, IDC’s Admissions Department gives preference to soldiers who served in elite units or as officers, in recognition of their contributions to the state.