Woman says connection to homeland led to army enlistment

At the height of the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Kaila Rieders kept her cool.

The Williamsport Area High School graduate lives in an apartment in Jerusalem, where she’s witnessed Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercept Hamas-fired rockets over the city. She will begin active duty in the Israeli Army later this month. She said she is not afraid.

“Everything in Israel is relative,” the 23-year-old recently told the Sun-Gazette. “Just because we are having a war now doesn’t mean we aren’t always dealing with terrorists from Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, or Hezbollah in Lebanon and all the other Arab countries who want to wipe Israel off the map.”

Rieders holds citizenship in the United States and in Israel. She first fell in love with the country when she visited during high school.

“As a Jew, this country isn’t just another country on the map,” she said. “It’s the Jewish land for the Jewish people.”

After high school, Rieders studied history and politics at the University of Hartford in Connecticut before going to Israel for a year to study at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies.

She said it was around that time that she really began to take an interest in the country and her own ancestry. Through her relatives, she discovered the grave of a ancestor with whom she felt a kinship.

“I felt very connected to him and to Israel,” she said.

Rieders feels serving in the Israeli Army is a duty of hers.

“I wanted to do my part to give back,” she said. “I am actually over the age of required service but I fought to go. This current war only solidifies my pride to serve this democratic country and to fight for what I believe in, which is being a Jew and living in the Jewish homeland.”

Rieders still does not know in what capacity she will serve, but could see herself joining the army’s education wing to help children from lower income families obtain their GED.

“I think I would be beneficial in a teaching position because I have a degree and because I am passionate about this land,” Rieders said.

Rieders is what is known as a lone soldier – a serviceman or woman in the Israeli Army without family in the country.

“Anyone who learns that I am a lone soldier invites me for meals on Shabbat and goes out of their way to help,” Rieders said of the Israeli people.

Her family took a trip a few weeks ago to visit her. Without their support, she would not have been able to make the move to Israel, she said.

“When I felt overwhelmed by the language barrier in the beginning, they told me to keep working at it and it would come,” Rieders said, adding that the people of Israel have helped provide a smooth transition for her. “Israel isn’t like any other country in the world. The people here are without a doubt like family … My parents know that I am in good hands.”