Ronen Birvdaker, a Jewish Indian from Mumbai, was so moved by the 2008 terrorist attack in his home city that he decided to immigrate to Israel last year. On Wednesday, he completed his training to become a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces’ Golani Brigade.
Birvdaker, 25, said that after the November 2008 attack — which killed 166 people, including a Chabad emissary and his wife — he felt that as a Jew there was no place for him to live other than in Israel.
"I was shocked by the assault on Jews, just because they were Jewish,” he said. “It affected me so much that I felt I had to do something, although at the time, I wasn't sure what I could do. I thought about it for a while and arrived in Israel last year to serve in the IDF. I was determined to join Golani."
Birvdaker said he was inspired to join Golani after meeting Israelis in Mumbai.
"I met Israelis who came to visit India and were soldiers in Golani during their military service,” he said. “They told me stories about their service during wars and the action and adventures they experienced. I wanted to experience those things myself."
The soldier now says he feels 100 percent Israeli. "With this beret [the brown Golani beret] no one can tell me otherwise," he said.
Before immigrating to Israel, Birvdaker was a successful event producer who lived with his family in Mumbai. He was also a volunteer in the local Amiad program, which provides security guards for Jewish community events in India.
Birvdaker is scheduled to fly to India next week to visit his family and friends.
"My friends told me I was crazy to go to Israel, and they're right. But deep down I knew this was the right thing for me to do," he said.