Corporal Diego Tapia, 28, is not your typical IDF soldier. Born a Catholic in Bogota, Colombia, Diego discovered Judaism during his research in university, converted and immigrated to Israel. After completing three years of study in Yeshiva in Jerusalem he enlisted in the IDF.
Last Wednesday was an extremely unique and moving day for Diego. He has concluded his training phase in the IDF and was to be awarded the coveted Warrior’s Pin. This in itself is an exciting moment, but the Nahal Haredi association, which accompanies Diego’s unit, was not content with a simple ceremony. They decided to fly in Diego’s mother, Mercedes, and his sister, whom he had not seen in over six years since leaving for Israel. They wanted Diego to be like all the other soldiers, accompanied at the ceremony by his family. In less than a day’s notice his mother and sister took the 20 hour flight from Bogota to Tel Aviv, so that they could surprise Diego and stand by him during the ceremony.
At one point during the ceremony one of the soldiers’ commanding officers took the stage and gave the signal to bring in the entourage from Colombia. With a shy smile and accompanied by the unit’s soldiers, mother and sister entered the hall, and all burst into tears. Not a single eye was left dry during the union, and the soldier and his mother could hardly part.
“The embraces between son and mother left no dry eye in the entire hall,” said Rabbi David Fuchs, one of the Nahal Haredi Rabbis. “This was one of the most exciting occasions in my life.”
Mercedes, Diego’s mother, added she was happy, that it was a great excitement and a great surprise. “The sentiments I experienced here were of immense joy and much excitement, and I was surprised to see him looking so official,” she said, relating to his uniform.
Diego’s life story is extraordinary. After graduating from high school he began studying at university. “We learned a lot of science like mathematics and physics and philosophy. I felt that something was missing, answers I could not find in my religion at the time,” he says. “I love to read and learn, ask questions and seek answers, so I started exploring different religions and cultures such as Japanese and Chinese cultures and Buddhism.”
During his search, Diego came across “The Kuzari” by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. The book is considered one of the pillars of Jewish philosophy which describes the foundations of Judaism. Diego was exposed through the book to Judaism and felt he had found what he was looking for.
He decided to convert to Judaism, starting the process in Colombia and continuing for another three years at Machon Meir in Jerusalem. “In Colombia it is hard to be a Jew and especially difficult to convert in particular, so I decided to come to Israel,” says Diego. In 2011 he graduated from the Yeshiva, received an Israeli identity card and was recognized as a new immigrant.
After being recognized as an Israeli citizen Diego decided to take another step into Israeli society. “I felt I needed to do something to be worthy of the new citizenship I received; I wanted to contribute to the country and decided to enlist, like everyone else,” he says. Diego joined the IDF voluntarily.
Diego and his comrades concluded their training phase and were awarded the desirable Warrior Pin. “We hope to have many more people like Diego; he is very determined, demonstrating physical and mental courage and thus inspires his unit members. We, as his commanders, appreciate him very much as well” said his commanding officer, Lieutenant commander Omri Shoshani.