The Jewish community of South Padre Island, Texas, is mourning the loss of native-born Sgt. Sean Carmeli, one of 13 soldiers from the Golani brigade who died in battle overnight in the Shejaiyah section of Gaza City.
Sean, known in Hebrew as Nissim, was born to Israeli parents—Alon and Dalya Carmeli—who had moved to the island in pursuit of business opportunities. Over time, along with his parents and two sisters, he reconnected with his Jewish roots and began living a Torah lifestyle.
“Sean was a gentle kind boy,” says Rabbi Asher Hecht, co-director of Chabad of the Rio Grande Valley, who met the boy in summer of 2006 when he and a friend ran a day camp for local Jewish children. “He was the oldest of the local boys in our camp, and was a sweet and kind example to everyone else.”
"He was my older brother, my best friend, my everything,” Hecht reports being told by a community youth, who continued to say, “I need Sean now more then ever now.”
The Carmelis were leaders in the religious awakening that took place in the community during the first decade of the millennium. Within a few years, community members constructed a synagogue, hired a rabbi, and almost all of the members of the tight-knit community observe Torah and mitzvot.
Alon Carmeli purchased the community’s first Torah scroll and dedicated the synagogue in memory of his father-in-law, Nissim Buganim, after whom his son was named.
After spending his summers in the Chabad day and overnight camps, Sean’s parents saw that their children were growing up without many Jewish friends and made the decision to move back to Israel, said Hecht. Sean, who held dual U.S and Israeli citizenship, completed high school in Ra’anana and went on to join the army where he served with honor and distinction in the Golani brigade.