During her senior year in college, Sonenshein struggled whether to go with her plan of attending law school or her dream of moving to Israel and enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In December 2012, only 6 months after graduating from the University of Kansas, Sonenshein moved to Israel and enlisted. She is currently a commander of basic training. “My training was challenging, demanding, and strenuous both physically and mentally, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
When asked why she wanted to join the IDF, Sonenshein explained, “As my father is Israeli, I have always felt a special connection to Israel, and the thought of joining the IDF had always ruminated in the back of my head. I truly grasped the depth of that desire when I started writing personal statements for Law School during my senior year. I stared at the computer screen asking myself what life experience have I encountered that has unquestionably changed me as a person, provided me with a different perspective on life, or given me something of true value to pass on. I could not think of one thing. First and foremost, I realized there was no way I would attend Law School, or any graduate school, without attaining the life experiences I was lacking. Secondly, I came to the conclusion that it is ok if I do not follow the so-called “plan” that most young adults my age conform to: undergrad, grad school, work, family, kids, etc. I needed to find myself by stepping out of my comfort zone and challenging myself. What I was searching for could not be found in the everyday obstacles of life. I refused to wake up in ten years and regret my life choices. I yearned to do something truly meaningful in my life and something I was passionate about. Senior year was a struggle for me as I deliberated how I wanted to continue my life after graduation. Nevertheless, I knew what the right decision was for me.”According to Sonenshein, there are multiple reasons why she is passionate about the IDF.
“I don’t think I can sum up that question in a simple statement. Israel is a part of who I am and who I always will be. Israel is my history and my future. I feel that I owe my gratitude to Israel and serving in her Army is a fundamental way of showing it.”
Sonenshein is serving a mandatory two years in the army like every other female citizen. She has one more year to serve before she is released. She explains that living in Israel has been an amazing experience. However, she says that she has had much less free time since she enlisted and lacks the opportunity to travel.
“When I do get a weekend off, I go home to my kibbutz and hang out with my American friends who have also joined the Army. I usually sleep a lot on the weekends because I do not get that much sleep during the week.”
When asked if she felt like she is making a difference, Sonenshein explained, “I feel that every position in the Army contributes and makes a difference. Whether that position entails cooking for 1,000 soldiers or training for combat, each is just as important as the next. To that end, I know my job has a large impact on soldiers. I am a commander of basic training and train non-combat soldiers during their first month in the Army. I am not only responsible for teaching soldiers basic concepts like how to use a gun, how to make a tourniquet, and take care of any need they may have. The ability to ease and acclimate them during their first month in the Army is crucial in preparing them for future service. There is a large amount of discipline and distance between soldiers and their commanders which is very hard for new soldiers to overcome during their first weeks in the Army. Herein lies the true challenge of my position. Asserting myself as their “parent” for the next month and caring for their every need or problem seems somewhat incongruous when seconds later, I command them to stand up straight with their hands behind their back and demonstrating a clear detachment of emotion. Despite that the main goal of basic training is to certify that the soldiers have passed all the required material, there is so much more to learn. If at the end of the day, I can cause a soldier to open up to me about his or her personal problems and can help, then I have done my job well. As much as my position has a “no-smiling policy,” which reinforces my authority, I would not give it up for the world.”
After four years at KU Hillel, including internships and participating in KU Hillel’s Israel Leadership Mission trip, Sonenshein shared the impact KU Hillel had on her.
“Hillel definitely helped strengthen my Jewish identity during a significant time in my personal development as a young adult. After partaking in the Israel Leadership Mission with Hillel, I learned first-hand how important it is not to judge a book by its cover. No person should be judged by stereotypes or by his or her history. I think that particular experience provided me with a valuable lesson. Without any preconceived biases, every soldier starts with a fresh page in my book.”