Palisadian Samantha Sharpe to Serve with Israel Defense Forces

By Sarah Stockman
Palisades News Reporter

Senior year of college can be a stressful time for students as they apply for graduate schools or try to find a job. Palisadian Samantha Sharpe had no trouble with this decision because she had already made her postgraduate plans: become an Israeli citizen and serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Sharpe’s decision to join the IDF was not something she had planned to do her entire life. Although she was raised in the Jewish faith and attended Kehillat Israel, the nation of Israel always seemed a faraway place.

Samantha Sharpe, center, with classmates at her graduation from the University of Colorado Boulder in May.

Samantha Sharpe, center, with classmates at her graduation from the University of Colorado Boulder in May.

“Growing up I didn’t know much about Israel,” Sharpe said. “I knew I spoke its language in prayer at synagogue, I knew that my religion originates from there and that I had extended Israeli family. Beyond that, the place didn’t have much more meaning tome.”

However, the summer after her sophomore year of college, Israel became a part of her life.

“I was going through a rough time while simultaneously reading every day about Israel. As I became more informed, I was shocked and concerned to see the world’s opinion on the State of Israel unravel before me,” Sharpe said. “[My] ‘rough patch’ . . . fell hard by the wayside, overshadowed by the current situation in Israel.”

The more Sharpe learned about Israel, the more interested she became. Something drew her to the country and its people.

“I found something larger than myself and it quickly became a moral obligation of mine,” Sharpe said. “I decided I wanted to be a soldier in the Israeli Army.”

A year later, Sharpe visited Israel for the first time on a Taglit-Birthright Israel experience. Birthright is a program that provides free trips to Israel for 18- to-26-year-olds with Jewish heritage.

The trip solidified Sharpe’s desire to move to Israel.

“Only a year later I went to Israel for the first time. A place I had barely known about a year prior, a land physically far from my comfort zone; something that was supposed to be foreign to me felt like home,” Sharpe said.

She decided that on top of joining the IDF she would also make Aliyah, or become a citizen of Israel.

“Making Aliyah came along sometime during my decision to join the army,” Sharpe said. “It simply makes sense to have a stake in the only Jewish country in the world. It’s an honor and a mitzvah to hold Israeli citizenship and walk on the same earth the Jewish tribes once walked on.”

In May Sharpe graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a bachelor of arts in communication, a bachelor of science in broadcast news, and a minor in business with a focus on entrepreneurship. One month later she moved to Israel.

Sharpe is currently in an immersion program called Ulpan on Kibbutz Yagur, which is a 20-minute drive inland from Haifa. She spends seven hours a day, four days a week learning Hebrew. The remainder of her time is spent volunteering at the kibbutz.

After the program ends Nov. 30, Sharpe will begin her minimum one year of voluntary service in the IDF.

“In the army . . . If I could have total control in this decision, I would say I’d be happy to work in anything with strategic communications, diplomacy or public relations,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe grew up in the Palisades. She attended Paul Revere and then PaliHi. While at Pali she played varsity lacrosse, soccer on a club team and on the Pali team, and interned for a nonprofit called Common Sense Media.

Sharpe’s parents, Sheri and David, and her siblings, Hannah and Brendan, very much support her decision.

“My whole family supports me,” Sharpe said. “It means the world to me. It has not been easy for any one of us, and yet I have never felt alone during this journey.”

“We were shocked and resistant at first when we found out Sammi wanted to make Aliyah to Israel,” Sharpe’s mother said. However, she knew her daughter would not give up this idea. “After I realized the move was imminent and there was no stopping her, I embraced it, with a lot of tears.”

Sharpe believes she’ll end up serving more than the year of required service in the IDF. After that, she’s not sure whether she’ll remain in Israel or return to the U.S.

Sharpe does not see this move as an abandonment of America. Instead, she sees it as her duty as an American and a Jew.

“I am a proud American, and I love the U.S., but I was a Jew before I was an American. And as a Jew, it is my duty, my moral obligation, to make this world a better place,” Sharpe said. “Right now the Jewish Nation needs my help more than any other country.”

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