Noy Leyb’s two-front war

Hasbara specialist Noy Leyb was visiting Calgary last month. Photo supplied.

by Maxine Fischbein

(AJNews) – Noy Leyb was visiting Calgary last month for a friend’s wedding. In an interview, he told AJNews that he would like to settle down and enjoy some stability. For the foreseeable future, though, he is fighting a war on two fronts.

One of three siblings born and raised in Calgary, Leyb – a paratrooper who reached the rank of First Sergeant in the IDF – returned to serve with his unit after Hamas terrorists brutally attacked Israelis on October 7. He has since walked away from the potentially lucrative tech start-up he co-founded, choosing instead, to focus his efforts on hasbara.

Frequently interviewed in mainstream media and prominent on social media platforms, the nearly 33 year-old has developed quite a following.

For those unfamiliar with the Hebrew word, hasbara’s imperfect English cousin is “explanation,” though much is lost in that translation. Israel’s detractors see hasbara as propaganda and lies. It is commonly referred to by friendlier voices as public diplomacy.

Many Diaspora Jews and Israelis agree that Israel does not do a great job on the hasbara front. Some dismiss its importance saying Israel has more pressing existential challenges. Others cynically argue that Israel’s most powerful hasbara emerges only in those moments when the country is perceived as a victim, as in the short-lived outpouring of international sympathy immediately following Black Sabbath.

Noy Leyb rushed into danger when the war began, serving with his unit in Gaza. He has subsequently focussed on a second front as an influencer devoted to spreading positive messages about Israel in the Diaspora.

Late in the evening of October 6, while walking home from a Shabbat dinner in New York City, Leyb began receiving alarming texts about the now-infamous terrorist attack at the Nova music festival where 364 young Israelis were murdered. Though the extent of the slaughter in southern Israel was yet to be fully revealed, Leyb knew his country needed him.

“I called my father and said Abba, there’s going to be a war. I’m coming to Israel.”

His father told him to wait and see how things played out.

“Thank God I didn’t listen to him,” recalled Leyb, who bought a ticket on the first flight the following morning, even before his unit was called up.

By the time he landed in Israel, his younger brothers Shar and Tav – both combat soldiers – were on base.

Leyb headed straight to his grandfather’s home to give him a kiss. The following morning his parents drove him to his meeting point and a hasty farewell.

“It’s not a normal goodbye….It’s goodbye and I don’t know if I’ll see you again,” Leyb said. “I heard from others that they didn’t sleep for three months,” he added.

Leyb’s reserve duty battalion was among the first to go into Gaza. Many are themselves parents, like Shar, whose newborn was two months old when the war began.

Referring to women like his sister-in-law as heroes, Leyb said that some of the men in his unit have wives who are looking after four, five or six children while worrying about their spouses on the front lines.

Far too many young mothers have been widowed, says Leyb, who expressed relief that none in his unit have fallen during the Hamas-Israel war, though he did say that some have sustained injuries.

Leyb spent his first three weeks back in Israel training with his Special Forces commando group, one of the top units in the reserves.

They trained for Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon until they were told to call their families and then put their phones away. After some uncertainty about which front they would defend, they were deployed in Gaza, the first of five missions there ranging in length from one to three weeks.

“We succeeded in our mission,” said Leyb, adding that his battalion was instrumental in dismantling Hamas in the northern part of Gaza.

“Nothing can prepare you for war,” says Leyb.  “I’ve been on the Lebanon border, the Gaza border. I’ve arrested terrorists, I’ve gone into Arab villages, I’ve done everything, but this is different.”

“We had an event where many people were injured. I wondered why everything was so quiet…. It was because everyone was dead or unconscious,” he added. “It was a very hard sight to see. No legs, no arms, things you don’t even see in the movies. You just have to cope with it the way you can.”

His unit was officially released near the end of January, after which they processed their experiences, debriefing professionally and speaking with psychologists.

The army, says Leyb, is much better today at supporting mental health than they were a generation ago when, “you finished the war and you just went home.”

While better, it is not perfect, said Leyb, who has insight into the psychological scars some of his comrades in arms carry. After being discharged, one told his friends he’d be disappearing for a while and did not want to be contacted. Another, newly married, grabs his young wife in the night, “screaming from terrifying nightmares.”

While much is said about post traumatic stress, the trauma remains forever current, Leyb says.

“There is a story about a soldier who fought in the Protective Edge operation ten years ago. He was responsible for taking out all of the injured and the dead. October 7 triggered those memories, and he committed suicide a few weeks ago,” Leyb told AJNews, who also described how some veterans of the Yom Kippur War experienced such severe anxiety after October 7 that they had to be hospitalized.

Leyb characterizes himself as an optimist, adding, “We’ve got no choice.”

“Never have I, in my 32 years of life, seen the Jews so united,” he told AJNews.

“We were in a bad situation, and that’s when they caught us, but I do think that we will prevail. Israelis have resilience as has been seen around the world, and we have no choice but to come out of it.”

Leyb acknowledges that the Palestinians and their supporters do an “amazing job” of getting their narrative out to the world with slogans like “from the river to sea,” heart-wrenching images of suffering, and powerful influencers like supermodel Bella Hadid and her sister Gigi. Leyb told AJNews that their sister Alana posted a video about him on her Instagram.

Israel feels a moral obligation to explain its actions, says Leyb.

“Meanwhile, on the other side they will cut a video of a woman being beaten, but they don’t show the woman had previously attempted to stab a soldier.”

“Every time we try to show something, it gets reshaped,” says Leyb.

“But it’s also our fault,” he adds. “In the 2014 war, the first picture that came out of Palestinian media was this child [covered] with blood. If you’re a human being, you’re going to feel that.”

“And what did the IDF post as a first picture? They posted a picture of an air force pilot in his plane saying, ‘We’re coming.’”

Confusion results about “…who’s the aggressor and who’s the victim,” Leyb said. “We need to start learning how to touch people’s hearts like the other side does.”

From images and “facts” that are untrue or manipulated to Artificial Intelligence, many challenges are posed when it comes to sorting fact from fiction, Leyb says.

“Palestinians are going into every corner of the world.  They are proud, they are yelling, they are present. That is something we don’t have. A lot of Jews are silent. A lot of Jews are scared. They speak between themselves, but they’re not [reaching] out…which is why I’m doing it.”

Leyb is saddened to see Jews removing mezuzahs from their doors, so fearful are they of physical harm.

On other doors, says Leyb, you see posters emblazoned with “Free Palestine.”

“My generation isn’t as strong or wanting to fight like the older generations, and it’s hurting us,” Leyb said.

He is not an official spokesperson, preferring instead to deliver his own message from a personal and genuine place.

Leyb has been keeping good company. Last month he spoke twice in New York, including at an event opened by Dan Senor, co-author of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, and Michael Eisenberg, founder of Aleph, a venture capital firm in Tel Aviv.

With the help of a volunteer coordinator, Leyb is juggling speaking requests from Florida, Colorado, California, New Jersey, Upstate New York, Connecticut, Montreal, Toronto and Mexico. He hopes to speak in Calgary in April, though by press time details had not been confirmed.

Leyb’s IDF unit will be deployed again in May. In the meantime, he is anxious to speak as widely as possible.

What led him to this moment?

Leyb was raised by Zionist parents.

“They always told me to be proud of my Judaism and to never be afraid to speak out,” Leyb recalls, adding that they have always supported him as he follows his dreams.

“It’s given me the support and the energy to do something good for the world and the Jewish people,” Leyb said.

He also had the support of his community. Leyb was educated in Calgary at Akiva Academy, later completing Grade 9 at The Calgary Jewish Academy. He attended Camp BB Riback and participated in BBYO, NCSY and youth programs at Beth Tzedec. Together with Rabbi Ross, he created a program that brought teens together for “Pizza and Torah” at Henry Wise Wood High School.

Following high school, Leyb moved to Israel and served in the army between the ages of 18 and 21, later working and studying in Israel until 2020 when he moved to the US to do an MBA at the University of Michigan. After a brief return to Israel, he relocated to New York City in 2022 to launch a smart booking platform for group travel. He and his business partner were to have launched their start-up the following year in mid-October.

“October 7 happened. Things changed,” Leyb said.

Much as he had previously loved his career trajectory, it now “felt meaningless.”

“There’s the physical war, and we’re good at it, but there’s the other war…the war that you guys fight. I have to spread the message, I need to go to every community, Jewish, non-Jewish especially, and tell them what’s going on.”

Leyb is no stranger to outreach.  Throughout his time in Michigan, he arranged Shabbat and holiday gatherings that brought together Jewish and non-Jewish business students.

He took that mission to new heights when he led 80 business school students – 76 of them non- Jewish – to Israel in 2020.

“They had a positive experience,” Leyb said.

He continues to bring positive messages about Israel to as many people as possible on social media where some of his videos, including one titled Don’t go to Israel, have gone viral.

While at times it appeared that Leyb was posting from Gaza, he was not. When he was on leave for periods of 24 or 48 hours, he made videos and passed them on to a team who would post on his behalf each day.

Leyb regularly receives social media messages that range from “amazing” to “horrible.” He has noticed an escalation in hate messages that have jumped from Instagram to his personal phone.

Though he says he is not alarmed by cyberbullying, Leyb does not, in general, get much rest. “I sleep maybe four hours a night, and the first thing I do is hasbara. It never gets old, at least not yet.”

“There are so many amazing speakers out there, a lot of soldiers, a lot of injured people, a lot of Nova survivors who are going around and telling their stories, and it’s great, but it’s to the same crowd. No one is going out there…into the black communities, the Asian communities, the ones that are going to ask the hard questions.”

These are the audiences with whom Leyb especially hopes to make inroads.

While he applauds those who choose to do so, Leyb does not attend protests. “You have to have a conversation,” he says. “You disagree with me? Let’s talk.”

He urges Diaspora Jews to be vocal in their advocacy of Israel in their social circles and their workplaces, to support Israeli businesses and, most importantly, to visit Israel.

“Whoever goes to Israel…especially at this time, they’ll feel something they haven’t felt before. Go to the site of the Nova festival, or not. Volunteer with farmers who need your help, or not.  Just be in Israel.  Just go. That’s the number one thing people can do.”

He also encourages others to make sure they are gathering information from reliable sources.

“You can’t be passive. Always challenge. Check if it’s true, check where it’s from.”

While he previously did not believe in letter writing campaigns, he encourages people to write to their Members of Parliament and other politicians.

“Lobby, even if you think it’s insignificant….It takes time, but it works,” Leyb said.

“We need to keep this momentum up, this strong Jewish pride, supporting each other, right, left, liberal, orthodox, it doesn’t matter,” he added.

“It’s unfortunate that we need a war to feel this way.”

You can follow Noy Leyb’s journey on Instagram at @noyleyb.

Did you know?

Mahalniks— volunteers from abroad that fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948—included Albertans Al Gelmon, Yale Joffe, Dov Chetner, Frank Kettner, Irving Gold, Jack Belkin, Will Manolson, Stan Miller, David Sidorsky, Hank Myers, Mel Silver and Arnold Kipnes.  Many more have served in the IDF over the generations that followed.

Maxine Fishbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.


Be the first to comment on "Noy Leyb’s two-front war"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.