Yulia Karra
January 29

Israel called up some 300,000 reserves at the start of the war against Hamas following the October 7 onslaught. Among those who answered the country’s distress call were quite a few extraordinary personalities, from Fauda stars to national news anchors. 

But there is one reservist who beats all the rest, at least in terms of how unusual his enlistment is. It is 95-year-old Ezra Yakhin — the oldest reserve IDF soldier in Israel. 

The real freedom fighter

Born in 1938 in Mandatory Palestine, Yakhin joined the underground paramilitary Lehi organization in 1944 at the age of 16. Yakhin’s father was also born in Mandatory Palestine, while his mother emigrated from Egypt. 

“I heard of the atrocities the British were committing [against the Jews] and I wanted to fight them. When I heard about Lehi, I decided to join,” Yakhin tells ISRAEL21c. 

Lehi is an abbreviation of “Lohamei Herut Yisrael,” which translates as “Freedom Fighters of Israel.” Its primary goal was to fight the British authorities who violently restricted Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine during World War II. 

“The empire, which at the time ruled over one third of the world, brought in over 100,000 soldiers to restrain us. They put the grown men in jail, so many of the underground movement’s members were kids, aged 15 and 16.”

He was wounded on several occasions. The most severe injury left Yakhin blind in his right eye after he was struck in the head by two mortar shells. 

Growing up in Jerusalem, Yakhin also cheated death during the August 1929 Arab riots. “There was a great massacre when I was a baby,” he recalls. 

From August 23 to 29, 133 Jews were killed by Arabs, and 339 were wounded. Yakhin’s family was evacuated from the Old City neighborhood where they lived. 

From underground fighter to public speaker  

He fought with Lehi all the way through the War of Independence, which ended in 1949 with an Israeli victory. Yakhin wasn’t part of the IDF, which only began forming in 1948, and therefore wasn’t eligible for official reserve duty status. 

However, that all changed after he published his first book, “Elnakam: Story of a fighter for the freedom of Israel,” in the late 1970s.

The cover of Ezra Yakhin’s book “Elkanam.” Photo: screenshot
The cover of Ezra Yakhin’s book “Elkanam.” Photo: screenshot

The book recalls Yakhin’s time in the underground movement. It was titled after the nom de guerre given to Yakhin after the murder of his fellow Lehi member Alexander (Hayim) Rubowitz, who was abducted and tortured to death by British Army Captain Roy Farran in 1947. 

Following the release of the book, Yakhin began giving lectures across the country, including at educational institutions and IDF bases. (You can watch one of his lectures here in English.)

Eventually this endeavor turned into a regular reserve duty for the writer, which he has been committed to ever since.  

In October 2023, he enlisted once again to rally the troops fighting the war in Gaza. 

“My goal is to convey to the soldiers the value of our land and our nation, so they know what they’re fighting for,” he explains. 

“Once in a while someone would ask me if I want to quit, but I sign up for this again and again.  I even have a doctor’s note that I am allowed to continue serving,” he laughs. 

The next generation

Yakhin has four children, 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. His wife, Haya, passed away in 1991 and then he married a woman who also had children and grandchildren, thus expanding his family even further.

“They’re boasting,” says the veteran when describing the reaction of his relatives to his continued military service. 

Yakhin’s 55-year-old son, Michael, was seriously wounded in a battle in Gaza, and has already undergone several surgeries.  

“He was among the first who arrived at the scene of the atrocities on October 7. He then was among the first who entered Gaza, and was wounded a couple of weeks ago.”

Two of his grandsons are currently in the army as well, with the elder fighting inside Gaza. 

Yakhin says in order to have a prosperous next generation, Jews abroad should immigrate and settle in Israel. 

“When we were fighting for this country, we hoped all the Jews would come here. I am disappointed that millions of Jews remain in exile. There are no more Brits here to stop you from coming. What are you all doing there?” he asks.

“We shouldn’t give up on a single Jew.” he continues. “The entire nation of Israel is one family.”

When asked what he thinks about  Jews who don’t support Israel, he says: “They’re a noisy handful. They need to learn history. They don’t have a Jewish consciousness and I have nothing to say to them.” 

More on Life

More on People