We were racing against the clock, trying to get to the bomber before he detonated himself,” said Israel Defense Forces Staff Sergeant Nimrod, describing his unit’s desperate search for the terrorist and the consequences for an informant who was instrumental in preventing a tragedy.
Nimrod (whose last name is withheld for security reasons) kept an audience of about 60 community members rapt as he addressed the gathering hosted by Princeton residents Merrye and Stephen Hudis and sponsored by Friends of the IDF Aug. 11 at The Jewish Center in Princeton.
The bomber his unit was tracking, he said, “was 16 years old and brainwashed, and we wanted to stop him and get the guys who did this to him.”
When his unit did capture the teen, said Nimrod, “the first thing he did was cry. And then he yelled the names of all the people who sent him. He snapped out of it. We arrested him and the guys who sent him. Hopefully we stopped a lot more kids from taking their own lives.”
The unit had been able to achieve their mission, Nimrod said, thanks to information given to them by Muhammad, a Palestinian living in Gaza.
Nimrod looked down at the podium as he told the audience, “We received a video two weeks later of Muhammad, tied to a jeep being dragged around Gaza until he died.”
Muhammad was killed, said Nimrod, “because he helped Israel. The reason Muhammad did it was because he wanted to save lives. He was a simple man from a poor family who just wanted peace.
“We would not have been able to catch those terrorists if it wasn’t for him.”
A 26-year-old Jerusalem native, Nimrod served in an elite commando unit when he began his military duty and later became a paratrooper. He said he was inspired to become a combat soldier after his brother narrowly escaped a kidnapping and convinced him of the importance of knowing how to defend yourself and your country.
Now a reserve soldier, Nimrod receives a full scholarship to attend Tel Aviv University as a psychology student through the Friends of the IDF Impact program. The program matches donors with socio-economically disadvantaged former combat soldiers who, in turn, volunteer their time to help others in need.
The event at The Jewish Center was Nimrod’s last stop in a tour sponsored by the FIDF to communities throughout the United States. He also spoke the same day to 40 11-year-olds at the JCC of Princeton Mercer Bucks’ Abrams Day Camp.
“These young IDF soldiers are our cousins, our nieces and nephews,” said Daniel F. Brent, past president of the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, who attended the event at The Jewish Center. “The Friends of the IDF provide these valiant young people, especially lone soldiers, with comfort and support while they serve and with crucial scholarship funds for higher education after their full-time military service.”
FIDF, a group founded by Holocaust survivors, raised approximately $48 million in 2009 in financial aid for 19,000 soldiers in need, including 5,000 “lone soldiers,” those who do not have families to support them in Israel. FIDF also sponsors the Legacy program that helps families of fallen soldiers.
The Hudises became involved with FIDF when their son Loel enlisted in active duty with the Israeli army. Since his family lives abroad, Loel is considered a “hayal boded,” a lone soldier, and receives sponsored fun days off and holiday food gift cards from the organization.
FIDF “bridges the gap,” said Merrye Hudis, an active FIDF volunteer and a board member of federation and its Women’s Philanthropy. “Part of their fund-raising goes to supply stuff the army doesn’t.”
Loel was inspired to enlist during a trip to Israel with the Young Judea youth organization. His mother said that for her son, as for “many young adults, both men and women, serving in the IDF is a call of passion.”
In answering questions from the audience after his presentation, Nimrod addressed a number of today’s compelling issues — including the Flotilla incident, Operation Cast Lead, and Israel’s stance in the global political arena.
As a soldier and a student who also works full-time, Nimrod said he often feels as if he leads a double life. He said he has found the drive to continue during his FIDF speaking tour. “Meeting people here in America has reminded me of what we are fighting for. We’re not only fighting for the people living in Israel. We’re fighting for your right to have your child’s bar mitzva at the Kotel in Jerusalem. We’re fighting for your right to come travel in the same land where Moses tried to bring the Jewish people.
“It’s not only ‘our’ land,” said Nimrod, holding his hands to his chest to refer to Israeli citizens. “It belongs to all of the Jewish people…. Bringing communities together is the only way to have a bright future for Israel.”