It takes a lot of chutzpah to apply to just two colleges — especially when your safety school is Stanford. But that's exactly what Anna Stein did, withdrawing her application there in December after receiving her appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
"I want to serve my country," said the teen. "For me, this is the most direct route to do that."
The recent graduate of the Episcopal Academy in Merion reported for basic training on June 30, bringing only the essentials — socks, underwear and running shoes, among other things — with the academy taking care of providing the rest. She'll spend the next seven weeks enduring "Beast Barracks," the basic-training process when cadets make the transition from civilian life to the military. She will also spend a week at Camp Buckner, an encampment some 12 miles from the academy.
While at Buckner, the cadets "have a rucksack they lay out, they have a tent they have to place up — it's definitely an outdoor experience," said media-relations chief Theresa Brinkerhoff.
After the cadets have learned the basics of soldiering — everything from saluting and taking orders to the basics of handling an M-16 assault rifle — Stein and her peers will march back from the training encampment in uniform, with full pack (approximately 40 pounds) as part of a ceremony marking the completion of their basic training and signaling the transition to the start of the academic year.
The march is a West Point tradition, and academy alumni often join the new cadets. Stein plans to have a special guest with her: her grandfather, A. Theodore Flum, West Point Class of '45.
Stein said that, partly because of her family legacy, attending the academy was "always in the back of my mind as something I was interested in. As I got older, it was something I started seriously thinking about doing."
West Point's Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Carlos Huerta, said that there were a few Jewish family legacies at West Point, though "not a whole lot." Stein is one of four female cadets in this year's Jewish contingent, said Huerta, and "she looks good; she's good-spirited, and God willing, she'll stay the course."
Once the academic year begins, Stein will take traditional college courses, including physics and chemistry, in addition to military training. She plans to learn Arabic, and thinks her language skills helped her secure entry into the academy — she's taken seven years of French, as well as courses in Greek and Latin.
If, in the end, she decides that the military is not for her, Stein said that she's not committed to the armed forces until the start of her third year. After graduation, this woman, who, after all, had camouflage yarmulkes at her Bat Mitzvah, will then be obligated to serve five years of active duty. She noted that she hoped to make a career out of it and become an officer.
It would be understandable if Stein were nervous about making such a formidable commitment, but she well understood the fact that she might someday be called to a war zone.
"I want to serve my country," reiterated the 18-year-old, "and if that's what's needed, then I'll do it. Serving is serving."
Her mother, Barbara, whose father attended the academy, said that while she did worry about her daughter, "there are a lot of possibilities" as to what she could do outside of combat.
A Jewish presence has existed at West Point since the academy was founded in 1802; the first graduating class was 50 percent Jewish, with one cadet, Simon Levy. Currently, a little more than 1 percent of cadets are Jewish, according to the school.
Religious services for Jewish cadets began in the 1930s, even though a chapel wasn't established until 1984. About 15 Jewish cadets graduate each year, with roughly 750 Jewish graduates since Levy's time, all of whom are listed on a wall in the Jewish chapel.