My Sister, Independence, & The IDF

Throughout my life, I felt a profound connection to my Jewish identity. Whether it was Jewish youth groups or summer camp, Shabbat dinners or holidays, my identity and connection with the Jewish community was deeply rooted. From the moment I came into this world, I did not understand the concept of independence because I was born along with my twin sister, Grace. Growing up, Grace and I always had each other around in unfamiliar situations, or when feeling homesick at camp. As Grace and I grew older, we learned what independence was, with a balance of dependence.

When Grace and I were in high school, we were each given the incredible opportunity to travel to Israel on a structured program. We decided to go on separate trips to have our own experiences and connections. While I treasured my time and loved every moment of my trip, Grace came back from her trip, before junior year of high school, inspired. Grace wanted to return to Israel immediately. She planned to graduate high school and move to Israel. She made an impulsive decision, but she knew that this was her meaning in life.

Maddie and Grace Ansel

Maddie and Grace Ansel

The adventure had only begun. Grace became obsessed with Israel. Israel became her thing. She would read Hebrew books and blogs, and listen to Israeli radio and TV. One day she came across information about Lone Soldiers, meaning soldiers who serve in the military but who do not have immediate familial support in Israel. Grace knew this is what she wanted to do. My parents supported her – it would be wrong to drive her away from her passion. Grace started her journey on a gap-year program before she made Aliyah and drafted into the IDF. Grace decided to do this because she wanted to be actively supporting Israel in the best and only way she felt she could.

Grace has, what she calls, “old school” Zionist beliefs. She says that many Israelis do not understand why she gave up her American privilege to draft into the IDF, something most people dread doing. But over anything else, Grace has found meaning in what she is doing across the world, for example, stating the symbolically exciting experiences of guard duty of the Old City in Jerusalem. Although she is one person, she realizes the impact she can make as one person, and that is admirable. Being in the army has taught her valuable life lessons and skills that she will use as she continues to build a life in Israel. Grace will complete her army duty in May and plans to stay in Israel and continue her education.

While my sister is following her passions in her Israeli community, it is difficult for me to hear and see anti-Israel statements in the news and around campus. I know this was part of the motivation Grace found to live her dream in Israel. For me, moving to Israel was never in question, but my experience with my sister living in Israel has demonstrated the importance of engaging with Israel-related topics on campus. I want to start conversations and I want to understand. Hillel, SSI, and Chabad on campus have all given me my new community, and various opportunities to find my role and let my voice be heard.

I am really proud of my sister. Grace dropped her life in Minnesota to follow her dreams and move across the world to defend a country that she had only been to twice. This courage and selflessness are only two of the many great qualities Grace demonstrates. I take pride in sharing with my peers that I have a sister who is in the Israeli Defense Force. Although most people are very supportive, as you may expect, not all reactions I have received have been positive. Admittedly, with anti-Semitic issues occurring regularly in our society, it can sometimes be scary to share what my sister does. I never know how people will react. I hope that we are able to find a place in the future where I will no longer feel threatened by sharing my sister’s story.