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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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Colombian Convert’s Journey to Israel and the IDF

Corporal Diego Tapia with his mother and sister.

Corporal Diego Tapia with his mother and sister.
Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir

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 in 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 for 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 stand by Diego during the ceremony.

At some 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 reunion, 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 the university. “We learned a lot of science like mathematics and physics and philosophy. I felt that something was missing, answers I could not find my in religion at the time, Christianity,” 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.

About the Author: Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.


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29 Responses to “Colombian Convert’s Journey to Israel and the IDF”

  1. Noki Lavie says:

    Judith Kovalski Zilberman Nathan Watemberg

  2. Very nice article. ..but it should read Colombian not Columbian. ..

  3. Andew, u gonna complain about a little typo? When the whole story is about a miracle?

  4. Nice, but due to his lack of paternal Jewish ancestry he’ll never be considered to be a real Jew by almost all Orthodox Rebbes. Judaism is as much a race as it is a religion.

  5. That’s what’s supposed to be happening, but many became like Jonah .

  6. Kay Xiarras says:

    You cannnot ‘become’ a Jew. You are born a Jew. It’s a blood thing

  7. David Pitch says:

    How many is Tree years of study?

  8. Usani Utum says:

    Splendid exercise

  9. sorry to correct you no one is born a Catholic but born in to a Catholic family

  10. Its not a blood thing. Don’t you remember reading about when jews went into exile to Babylon? They married Babylonians. I bet half of you are not 100% jews.

  11. Why nick pick on his race when you should rejoice that someone other then yourself loves YOUR GOD!

  12. Steven Wollam, Jewishness comes from the mother whether your father is a non-Jew. So it’s actually maternal. A convert is considered a Jew as much as those born of a jewish mother or parents. Now it depends upon a convert whether he would want to observe his mitzvot or not, he was given free choice. There’s no such thing as exclusive in your blood. But a convert cannot marry a Cohen. Of course the same thing happens to a divorcee born to jewish family. Judaism is family. Like a normal family they can adopt a child and consider him their own (that’s the nearest comparison). Don’t forget Moshe’s wife was a convert the same story as the grandmother of king David, Ruth to name a few. And they were even considered great personalities if not a heroine during their time.

  13. Are you an Orthodox rabbi? If not, why do you feel comfortable speaking on their behalf?

  14. Wow…you are so wrong. Have you ever heard of Ruth?

  15. Kay Xiarras says:

    yeah – the archetypal gold digger! ;)

  16. Kay Xiarras says:

    only those born to a Jewish mother can be considered Jewish. I come from a family of Holocaust survivors and I do not like conversions from whatever religion to whatever other religion

  17. Felix Agawin says:

    i love Jewish people….♥

  18. Also parsha YIsro, Yisro was Moshe’s father in law & he converted to judaism. Perfect example about a convert.

  19. All good wishes!

  20. Ms. Dina Moskowitz your comment is dead on RIGHT! You are are Jewish as any Ultra-Orthodox born Jew. I am the product of a Mexican Catholich father and an Ultra-Hasidism French Jew mother! Yes HASIDIM! And I am now a Reformed Jew, I live by Torah, I was born and have kept Kosher since birth. When people convert, they do it from the bottom of their hearts, when they know where they really belong. So I concur and confirm you are correct! Shalom.

  21. This was a fantastic story. I want to congratulate you Diego as a convert to Judaism and as a new citizen of the State of Israel. God bless you and the nation of Israel!!!!

  22. One less than for.

  23. It doesn’t matter what you like, Kay. Halakha says differently.

  24. Happens more than you would ever dream… against all odds.

  25. It is COLOMBIA!! not ‘colUmbia’

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