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(photo credit: Yaakov Katz)
She bartended at Bruce Willis's Spider Club in Manhattan, worked as a lifeguard at the local YMCA and plans to study acting at the prestigious Lee Starsberg Institute in New York City. But today Lt. Hadas Nuriel serves as the chief operations officer for the Nachshon Battalion near Tulkarm and oversees daily arrest raids and anti-terror operations from the unit's nearby war room.
Her path to becoming an IDF officer was not simple and was accompanied by long and difficult deliberations.
Growing up in Jerusalem, Nuriel's parents divorced when she was seven and her father moved to New York. She spent the next 12 years shuttling across the Atlantic, spending half the year in Israel with her mother and half with her father, the owner of two coffee shops in the Soho section of New York City.
After graduating from high school, Nuriel moved to New York and spent the next two years working as a bartender and traveling. The last thing on her mind was service in the IDF.
"I always wanted to live in the US, and this was like a dream come true," she told The Jerusalem Post Monday at Nachshon Battalion headquarters. "I was working, was financially independent and my friends told me that there was no reason for me to come back to Israel and go to the army."
Ultimately, a love for Israel and a desire to contribute to her homeland overcame her and three days before her enlistment date Nuriel found herself on a flight back to Israel without a clue where she was going to serve and what she was going to do.
"I enlisted like everybody else and found myself in a course to become a combat intelligence field soldier," she said. "From there I was sent to Nablus and alongside four other women soldiers became part of the first women's combat intelligence unit to serve in the field and participate in major anti-terror operations."
In Nablus, Nuriel got a taste of what it meant to be a real combat soldier. She accompanied troops during raids into the Balata refugee camp and sometimes set up field intelligence positions that she manned for three days straight.
"It was exhilarating," she said. "I felt like I was part of something important and greater than myself."
While returning to the US to pursue her acting career was always in the back of her mind, Nuriel decided to join the officer training course and sign up for another year. After the course, she was appointed operations officer for the Nachshon Battalion, where she has served for the past year and a half.
Nuriel will complete her military service next month and has decided to return to the US. But she is sure her experiences in the IDF have made her a better and more mature person and have given her skills that other women her age could never imagine.
Nuriel said she was driven to succeed, being one of the only female officers in the battalion. As the only English-speaking officer at the base, she also gave tours and presentations to foreign military delegations and Jewish philanthropists.
"I learned here what it means to be a person," she said. "After a car bomb explodes next to you and after you lose a soldier and friend during an anti-terror operation, you become a stronger person."
Nuriel plans to continue working on behalf of Israel from the US and says girls should not be deterred from enlisting in the IDF.
"It is worth coming to Israel to serve in the IDF," she said. "It is a one-of-a-kind experience."
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