Ziesel Rosenberg said she was “brainwashed” by her father from an early age to be a Zionist who defends Israel. But it was an indoctrination born of love for the Jewish nation, one that led the former Edison resident to claim, “I always knew my heart was there, in the homeland of the Jewish
It was also what led the 20-year-old to make aliyah about a year-and-a-half ago. When she enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soon after, she was following an example set by her father, Zev, who went to Israel to serve in the IDF in 1991, shortly after the first Gulf War.
“Moving to Israel and playing a role in society was an extremely important obligation,” said Ziesel, a graduate of Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth. “Being born in America doesn’t change that obligation.” She spoke with NJJN in a recent phone interview while she was on leave, visiting her parents in Edison.
Ziesel immigrated through the Garin Tzabar program, which provides support for “lone soldiers” — those serving without family in Israel — through their transition, including a four-month ulpan to learn Hebrew.
Zev said he and his wife, Leslie, “are very proud of their daughter. We raised the kids to be Zionists” who would make aliyah and then either serve in the military or fulfill national
service, an option for Orthodox young women in which they volunteer in Israeli society.
The couple’s older daughter, Chava, made aliyah and did national service; a younger sister, Charna, is studying in a seminary in Israel and will also likely enroll in national service. Their son, Moshe, also hopes to make aliyah.
For Zev and his wife, “making aliyah ourselves is definitely in our future,” he said. After going through extensive rehabilitation following a work accident six years ago that left him temporarily paralyzed, Zev became a personal trainer. Most of his clients are individuals with disabilities or involved in endurance sports.
Now a first sergeant, Ziesel was trained as a combat medic and assigned to a unit in the Jordan Valley, one of four co-ed units in the IDF assigned to border patrol.
“I wanted to do this from a young age,” said Ziesel. “My father started the Zionist ‘brainwashing’ so I would have a strong connection to Israel.”
Another factor in her decision was her family’s “strong military background.” Besides her father’s experience, one grandfather served in the Marine Corps and the other as a medic in World War II.
Zev said when he went to Israel there were no programs for lone soldiers; he discovered that unlike the American Army — “where you go to a recruiting station and they’re happy to see you” — when someone from abroad wanted to enlist in the IDF, “they didn’t know what to do with you.”
After entering the IDF as a private, he served in NAHAL — an acronym for Fighting Pioneer Youth — a division that integrates military training with agricultural labor and settlement.
“I had definite plans to stay,” said Zev, “but I was engaged, and my fiancée [now wife] was close to her family living here in New Jersey, and I was close to my fiancée.”
Ziesel lives on Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzhak, near Petach Tikvah, where many residents identify as Modern Orthodox; the kibbutzniks have become, she said, “an amazing family to me.”
She’s also received support from the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin. Levin was a 22-year-old IDF paratrooper who made aliyah from Bucks County, Pa., in 2002 and, four years later, was killed in battle during the Second Lebanon War.
Ziesel said she appreciates the assistance offered by the center. “Sometimes we just need to be reminded someone cares about us,” she said.
When she is discharged in December, Ziesel plans to enroll in a college prep program for immigrants and then go on to The Hebrew University, probably to study social work.