The Kotel, situated in the middle of Jerusalem, is a holy place and home to many, but this night it was home of the new recruits of the Air Defense Battalion who were being sworn into the Israel Defense Forces. One hundred and fifty soldiers stood at the Kotel swearing their allegiance to the IDF (Zahal). These soldiers are taught to operate the Iron Dome missile defense system.

It was a historical night for the 150 soldiers who stood under the stars in the Old City of Jerusalem. Standing at the Kotel —  called the Western Wall in English — the soldiers were swearing their allegiance to protect the people and the State of Israel. Many of the new IDF (Zahal) recruits, who serve as soldiers in the Air Defense Command, protect Israel’s civilians against attacks by operating the Iron Dome missile defense system.

From Uganda to Iron Dome: A Soldier’s Motivation to Protect Her Country

One soldier in the unit, Pvt. Or Meidan, stands out amongst the new recruits. In 2011, Pvt. Meidan immigrated to Israel from Uganda with her family. “We were living at a kibbutz, Yad Mordechi, during operation Pillar of Defense,” she recalls of her first days in the country. “Rockets were flying near us every day from the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip.”

Upon arriving in Israel, Pvt. Meidan planned to finish her university studies, but her experience during the operation inspired her to take a different path. Pvt. Meidan decided to follow in the footsteps of her stepfather, a native-born Israeli, and join the IDF (Zahal). “My grandfather helped me see that as an Israeli citizen, I also had a duty to serve my country,” she explained proudly.

At first, joining the army was an overwhelming decision for Pvt. Meidan. “I first went to Mikve Alon and took a Hebrew course,” she says, referring to her participation in a basic-training track for new immigrants. After improving her Hebrew, she drafted into the Air Defense Command, where she joined a group of soldiers tasked with operating the Iron Dome system. She realized that the role would allow her to protect Israeli civilians from the same rocket fire that threatened her family and friends during the operation.

From Uganda to Iron Dome: A Soldier’s Motivation to Protect Her Country

Or Meidan’s fellow soldiers being sworn in

“Growing up in Uganda wasn’t particularly difficult. I was very focused on my schoolwork and enjoyed learning about new things.” Pvt. Meidan explains.  “I never thought I would be so challenged and fulfilled, and I am looking forward my daily life and accomplishments in the IDF (Zahal),” she adds. Her goal is to become a commander for the Iron Dome battery, and train others in the importance of being able to save lives and protect Israeli citizens.

Pvt. Meidan is not Jewish, but she intends to participate in Nativ, a special track for IDF (Zahal) soldiers interested in converting to Judaism. “I am an Israeli citizen and I am very proud of the job I am doing in the IDF (Zahal), but somehow converting to Judaism just feels right,” she says.