I love it when people shatter expectations and break out of molds! Kudos to this young woman!
Great article in today’s New York Times.
17-Year-Old Makes the First-Ever Charge From an Orthodox Yeshiva to West Point
By JOSEPH BERGERAPRIL 28, 2015
Rachelle David, 17, at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School. She was accepted at other top colleges, but chose West Point because she was enthralled by generals’ roles in shaping history. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
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GREAT NECK, N.Y. — When Rachelle David applied for admission to the yeshiva high school here, her interviewer wrote in his notes: “This girl is going to be a general in the army someday.”
Four years later, that prediction is still on track. Ms. David has accepted an offer of admission to West Point, which would, according to the military academy’s officials, make her the only graduate of an Orthodox yeshiva, male or female, to attend West Point in its 213-year history.
Why is that so unusual?
“I hate to say it, but it’s not a Jewish activity,” said Daniel J. Vitow, headmaster of the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, a 400-student modern Orthodox yeshiva, and the man who interviewed Ms. David for admission. “The military is not what Jewish mothers want for their children. The stereotypical Jewish mother wants a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, not an army general.”
Ms. David, 17, is the kind of stereotype-defying young woman who between classes the other day was carrying a balsa and string “Bridge on the River Kwai”-like model of a suspension bridge that she had built. The desktop photo on her laptop shows a West Point cadet wielding a rifle from a prone position.
“West Point has been on my mind for a long time,” she said.
Ms. David was accepted at other top colleges, including Wellesley, but chose West Point, she said, because growing up she was enthralled by the role of generals like Grant and Eisenhower, both West Point alumni, in shaping American history, and Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir — “She wasn’t in the army but she was powerful” — in shaping the history of Israel, the other country she is devoted to.
Women were first admitted to West Point in 1976; they now make up 17.6 percent of the school, which has 1,100 cadets per class.
Ms. David found resonance in the biblical story of Deborah, the prophet and judge who led a successful counterattack against the Canaanites, one of the earliest scriptural examples of a female warrior. In her secular reading, Ms. David was taken with the tales of discipline, valor and resilience in Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Those books were laced with horror and bloodshed, but in an application essay Ms. David wrote of them:
“At times, cadets and officers experience fear and manifest cowardice, but they also struggle with moral dilemmas in the context of courageous acts.”
Asked what impact the scenes of war’s reality had on her, she said, “They were disturbing, but I can’t let that deter me.”
As a West Pointer, Ms. David would graduate as a second lieutenant.
“I’ll be well-equipped and trained,” she said, already assuming the matter-of-fact demeanor of a seasoned soldier. “It’s not like I’m going in blind. I’ll be trained to know how to handle this and I’ll have a unit behind me. And it’s important anyway to face your fears.”
Ms. David was also influenced by the memories of her father, Ilan David, generally favorable recollections of his service as an officer in a tank support unit in the Israeli Army, including his tour during the 1982 Lebanon war.
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“It’s very important to serve the country in the military,” she said. “You protect the civilians here, people who are like me, and to protect people in other countries from oppression.”
Ms. David visited the West Point campus, on the Hudson River, with her mother, Beverly Silver, a lawyer, who saw the school as a place of empowerment.
Her father was more cautious, concerned about the low ratio of women and news accounts of abuse of women in the wider military. He also worried about how Ms. David would respond to the absence of freedom in the hierarchical environment, and that once she was in the Army she could be sent anywhere on the globe, in contrast to the closer-to-home service of an Israeli soldier.
But he warmed to the idea, he said, because he came to realize that his daughter would be watched over carefully.
“Nobody goes under the radar at West Point,” Mr. David said.
And to the dangers of a military career?
“What can I tell you? It’s life,” he said. “You take your chances. This is what people do who have a calling, and are motivated to do something.”
Personal discipline and fitness have always been important to Ms. David; she runs two miles every day and does 100 situps and 30 push-ups. She is the captain of the varsity softball team and a member of the yeshiva’s volleyball squad.
But she keeps kosher, and West Point does not have a kosher cafeteria (it does have vegetarian options at every meal, as well as kosher ready-to-eat meals for field exercises). Yet Ms. David, who is a Conservative Jew and not modern Orthodox like the yeshiva itself, decided she could avoid prohibited foods by sticking to a vegetarian diet, a discipline her parents both observe.
Ms. David’s favorite subjects are chemistry and mathematics. She likes West Point’s strength in engineering, but once in the military, she said, “I see myself in a lot of different positions; I can see myself leading a charge, making new weapons, in a technological area, decoding messages.”
To gain entrance, Ms. David, who lives in Syosset, on Long Island, had to obtain an endorsement from a member of Congress. She procured recommendations from her representative, Steve Israel, and both United States senators from New York. She also had to pass a series of physical tests, which included throwing a basketball from a kneeling position.
West Point was also no doubt impressed by the 10 advanced placement courses she had taken.
But what may have put Ms. David over the top at a college that prizes leadership was a résumé studded with executive positions. She founded and edited the yeshiva’s literary magazine, was captain of the traveling math team, has been head of the stock market game club, the sewing club and something called the Novel and Nosh Club, which discusses fiction over food.
“I like getting things done,” she said, “and someone has to be the one to get people to do things.”