Former semi-professional basketball player and New Jersey native, 26-year-old Kenny Sachs is a survivor. He grew up wanting to defend Israel and he got his chance, and is lucky to be alive.
Sachs, described by friends as a "tough kid," made aliyah in 1998, fulfilling a life-long dream to be with his people. Drawn by the straightforward Israeli mentality, Sachs is a patriot who describes his will to serve Israel as a longing and a need. "Israel is my nation, our land. If we as Jews don't defend this country, who will?"
There was never any doubt about Sachs doing army service; he served in the elite Golani brigade for two years before becoming a security guard to one of Israel's leading politicians.
June 8th, 2003 is a day Kenny will never forget. In his first stint of miluim (reserve duty), he was assigned to the Erez crossing in northern Gaza Strip, scene of numerous recent terrorist attacks.
Sachs was the last guard on duty that night and part of the first response team getting ready to check the border. "It was a cold misty night. At 5am, I was washing my face in the bathroom getting ready to open the borders, when a fellow soldier suddenly ran out carrying his gun over his shoulder. I should have realized then something was wrong.
"Hearing gunfire, I rushed out of my living quarters. In the darkness I could just make out someone dressed in an IDF uniform and helmet, perhaps 20 meters away, kneeling in the middle of our base. I assumed he was a fellow IDF soldier. Then he turned around and shot a round of bullets at me. I felt an instant pain in my leg and raised my gun, realizing that we were under attack.
The first bullet hit my tibia, and the second tore through my calf muscle. Still standing, I was able to retaliate, firing a number of bullets until he unleashed another round of bullets, hitting me once in my right knee. At this point, I lost my balance and fell to the ground. I knew I had hit him with at least one bullet, but I didn't budge, expecting him to come after me.
"I managed to drag myself behind an armored personal carrier, and waited. There was no pain, only silence. My mind was somewhere else."
After 20 of the most frightening minutes of his life, Sachs was rescued.
When all was quiet, seven men lay dead. Three Palestinian terrorists disguised as Israeli soldiers had sneaked into the army post in the dead of night, gunning down four Israeli soldiers before being killed by IDF troops. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade claimed joint responsibility for the attack.
In total, the terrorists shot 2000 bullets and threw 14 grenades. 11 did not explode. "One landed next to me." Sachs lost 40% of his blood.
"If the bullet had gone in a millimeter to the left I would have lost my leg. I don't ask 'What if?' There are thousands of ways it could have been. God has a plan for every single one of us. The past happens for a reason. I believe firmly that what doesn't beat you makes you stronger. God gives us direction and we choose the path. My recovery has been a difficult road. No road is easy...to get anywhere requires work. I'm just grateful I'm alive. Four of my comrades weren't so lucky. I thank God I'm alive.
"I don't ask 'Why me?' I'll find out when I meet God one day. My life literally got turned inside out. Something like this puts everything petty into perspective."
Kenny is currently in America waiting for his next surgery, having just completed rehabilitation, intensive therapy for three hours, four times a week. He does speaking engagements to inform people about his experiences in the Israeli army. "If you live as though there will always be a tomorrow, then you'll never make much of today. Every man needs a purpose, a meaning. And that doesn't come from Hollywood, MTV, or any escapist fad. We chase stuff we don't need to fill the void we feel in our depressing lives.
"We don't appreciate what we have until we lose it. When you think you may die, you get in touch with the reality of life. You don't waste your time on petty things, you stop arguing with family members, you stop complaining, and you stop whining. For me, the daily therapy and chronic pain are a constant reminder that life is precious."
After such a serious attack, Sachs is not prepared to retire from defending his country. "The first chance I get I'll go do reserve duty at the same base if my unit has reason to go there," he said. He has no regrets, feels no remorse, and no anger or resentment towards terrorists. He just takes each day as it comes.
"I want to get the most out of every day. I wake up every morning and I make the most of it."
Sachs attributes his never-say-die attitude from years of combat on the basketball courts. "I'm going to make it back onto the basketball court -- that's my goal." The Israeli government will pay for Sach's health fees. Sachs is planning to study further at the Wingate Academy. He is expected to make a full recovery.
If you'd like to contribute support to Kenny, checks can be made payable to Kenny Sachs and mailed to:
1991 Broadway, 7B
New York, NY
In Israel gifts can be sent to:
Hovevei Zion 20