The IDF’s Wonderful Project ‘Great in Uniform’ welcomes special needs individuals into the service

Female soldiers at the Kotel (Western Wall) . Photo: Courtesy of Tova Lipson

I’ve written about the IDF before – when my daughter handed a chayal (soldier) a flower and in a post highlighting our chayalim bodidim (lone soldiers). Yesterday a friend shared a video (on Facebook, of course) about another type of chayal and I was so taken by it that I have to share with you, too. I was aware that the IDF integrated disabled young teens and adults into the army but was not aware of the scope of this project until I watched the video.

Whether or not one is actually serving in the IDF, it still plays a major part in the life of most of us living here in Israel just because of the ubiquitous presence of soldiers in uniform, many traveling with  a giant backpack and a gun slung over their shoulder. In the U.S. a soldier in uniform is a rare sighting; here it is an everyday occurrence. It is so much part and parcel of life in Israel, and a right of passage for many, that until recently young adults with developmental and/or physical disabilities felt very left out not being able to serve alongside their peers. In 2001 Maj. Col. (res.) Ariel Almog changed the reality for the disabled when he initiated the ‘Great in Uniform’ project enabling them to serve their country.  They are part of the Israeli Defense Forces  for three years providing valuable service. At the same time they gain important skills and receive needed support and guidance so that they can lead independent lives in Israel after they are discharged. Almog, who was seriously wounded preventing a suicide bomber from perpetrating an attack as well as taking out his accomplice, spent two and a half months in the hospital. While there he saw many disabled young adults and it occurred to him that they deserve an opportunity to serve their country just like everyone else. When he returned to duty he initiated project ‘Great in Uniform’.

The association Lend a Hand to a Special Child (Yad La’Yeled HaMeyuchad in Hebrew)  has recently teemed up with the  ‘Great in Uniform’ project to help ramp up and increase the scale of participation in the defense forces for special needs teens and young adults. Lend a Hand was started in 2005 by parents of disabled children. Israel National News’ article, of May 8, 2014, Special Needs Soldiers Are ‘Great in Uniform’ discusses the motivation behind Lend a Hand’s collaboration with the ‘Great in Uniform’ project and how important it is for the individuals who volunteer their service:

Rabbi Mendi Belinitzki, CEO of Lend a Hand to a Special Child, explained that the project “starts in the army but doesn’t end there. We can clearly see how afterwards it leads to a better integration into the society, the community and the workforce.” Belinitzki added that his organization “will expand the project so that G-d willing, thousands more teenagers throughout the country will be able to join the project.”


The Jewish Press, in their article of May 9, 2014, Project ‘Great in Uniform’: Integrating Those with Special Needs says of Almog and the program:

Lt. Col. Almog’s spirit, passion and ongoing care are an inspiration to everyone involved with the organization. A man whose incredible bravery on the field of battle is well known, and who’s bravery off the field of battle in taking on this important mission is just as impressive. The project enables young Israelis with disabilities to perform significant supportive and productive tasks as part of IDF service.

Today we are proud of the IDF not only for its military achievements at home and humanitarian accomplishments around the world, but also because it provides a shining example of what a little bit of caring can do to improve the lives of  our developmentally and/or physically disabled brothers and sisters. Donations can be made by clicking here.

How to be proud of Israel

Flag of Israel with the Mediterranean...Within the course of several days I read three interesting articles regarding Israel that I thought merited sharing. One of them bothered me very much;  I thought it deserved comment because it was rather unfortunate that an orthodox Jewish college student is taking up the mantra of left-wing anti-Semites; the other two, because they show Israel for what it is – a state built upon Jewish ethics and caring, and a land which has been waiting for Israel, it’s rightful owners, to return.

The “unfortunate” article appeared this past Sunday in the Jerusalem Post. It was an opinion piece by Atara Siegel  explaining “Why Israel is losing support from Jewish students on US college campuses“. (I still can’t figure out the Jerusalem Post’s weird choice of accompanying picture of a female student at Barnard College’s graduation ceremony who looks like an animal  about to pounce.) I expected this to either be enlightening or an article coming from a left-leaning anti-Israel student in one of the many liberal/secular colleges across the country.  Atara Siegel is, surprisingly, a student at Yeshiva University who felt the need  to explain to the world that although she loves Israel, studied here for a year, plans on working here in the summer, and making sure her education would be transferable to Israel she refuses to lobby Congress on behalf of Israel. Why? Because no matter how much good Israel does in the world it’s not enough since Israel is not a “perfect country” and the Israeli people are not perfect people. She writes:

… I wish I could ignore painful articles about price tag attacks and settlers shooting Palestinians, and simply write to American politicians and newspapers about Israel’s commitment to the security of its citizens, its medical and technological advances and aid to third world countries. But I can’t.

… Of course no country is perfect…

… But even one racist slur is a problem, even one unprovoked price tag attack damages Israel’s claim to have the moral high ground in its relations with Palestinians.

And when it is not just one racist slur, but many, not just marginal extremists involved in the melee, but Knesset ministers, it becomes harder, even for someone with a deep love for Israel, to advocate for Israel as the most democratic country and most stable American ally in the Middle East.

As someone who loves Israel deeply, this trend is extremely saddening. In addition to coming to visit, working in and studying in Israel, I want to be proud of Israel, too.

The next article  in Mishpacha Magazine’s January 9, 2013  issue, titled “Open Hearts in the War Zone” presents the perfect juxtaposition to Atara Siegel’s piece. It shows the true nature of the Jewish State and the Jewish people – and makes me really proud of Israel and her wonderful people!

Taking cover as Iron Dome swings into action.

The author, Rachel Ginsberg, relates the experiences of a team of American Hatzaloh volunteers who were called to Israel to assist during the recent Operation Amud Anan – Pillar of Defense. They had  previously trained in Israel so that they could come here and pitch-in during emergency situations. These fine people who came to help out their brothers, rather than castigate them,  exclaim about how amazing Israel really is:

[Mordechai] Soroka [of Brooklyn] says one of the most surprising things he witnessed was the similar care administered to Arab patients, in spite of the hostilities on the ground. …’We provided ventilation and medication and high-level care for over an hour,’ [Eliyahu] Feldman [of Miami] reported. ‘It’s impossible to convey our mixed feelings, except to say what the well-spoken IDF commander answered when asked why we render care to Palestinians: ‘Because we’re not them.’

And the next day…

it happened again.

The third article, Israel’s miraculous climate changepresents a rather interesting (and seldom heard) long view of history  by Joseph Farah, a pro-Israel Arab-American. It’s a great read and I hope you enjoy and appreciate it as much as I did:

JERUSALEM – Here I am in Israel, and what am I
thinking about?

Climate change.

Why climate change?

For 1,800 years it seemed unlikely that Israel would ever be reborn.

No nation in history had ever been regathered after such a lengthy period. Even the Hebrew language was lost in that time.

Meanwhile, the Promised Land became a barren wasteland – a desert no man could master.

Have you ever wondered why the Holy Land became a wasteland during the 1,800-year dispersion of the Jews that lasted until they returned in significant numbers beginning in the early 20th century?

1750 Homann Heirs Map of Israel - Palestine - ...

1750 Homann Heirs Map of Israel – Palestine – Holy Land (12 Tribes) – Geographicus – Palestina-homannheirs-1750 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever wondered why Mark Twain was so disappointed at what he found in his travels through the area in the 19th century?

Have you ever wondered why, during that period of nearly two millennia, no other people successfully and permanently settled this land that is so much in dispute today?

It was all a fulfillment of prophecy. Little did Mark Twain know when he wrote about his trip to the Holy Land that he was fulfilling prophecy, but he was.

1 Kings 9:6-8 explains it all:

“But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people: And at this house, which is high, every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and to this house?”

It wasn’t just the children of Israel who suffered as a result of their disobedience and apostasy. So did the land itself.

In his book, “Prophecies for the Era of Muslim Terror,” Rabbi Menachem Kohen points out the land suffered an unprecedented, severe and inexplicable (by anything other than supernatural explanations) drought that lasted from the first century until the 20th – a period of 1,800 years coinciding with the forced dispersion of the Jews.

Kohen sees this as a miraculous fulfillment of prophecy found in the book of Deuteronomy – especially chapter 28:23-24:

“And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.

“The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.”

The climate in Israel dramatically changed during this 1,800-period – way before Al Gore discovered “global warming.”

Before the Jews entered Canaan, it was described in the Bible as a land flowing with milk and honey. If you read what Israel’s climate and natural landscape was like from the time Joshua crossed the Jordan right up until the time of Jesus, it sounds like a heavily forested land. There were amazing crops raised by the people who inhabited the land when the Jews arrived.

Once I wondered what happened to Israel to turn it into the dusty, arid land it was when the Jews came back in the 20th century. Until I read that prophecy in Deuteronomy, brought to my attention by Rabbi Kohen, I had no clue.

For 1,800 years, it hardly ever rained in Israel. This was the barren land discovered by Mark Twain. So-called “Palestine” was a wasteland – nobody lived there. There was no indigenous Arab population to speak of. It only came after the Jews came back.

Beginning in A.D. 70 and lasting until the early 1900s – about 660,000 days – no rain.

I decided to check this out as best I could and examined the rainfall data for 150 years in Israel beginning in the early 1800s and leading up to the 1960s. What I found was astonishing – increasing rainfall almost every single year – with the heaviest rainfall coming in and around 1948 and 1967. Is this just a coincidence?

I’ll be quite honest with you: I don’t think so.

Nor do I think Israel can continue today to make bad stewardship decisions regarding the land bequeathed to the Jews by God without consequences – serious consequences.

And that’s exactly what Israel is doing today – yielding to global pressure to trade “land for peace.” It won’t work. In fact, the prophet Daniel (Daniel 11:39) warns that this will eventually happen in the last days – and bring about the final conflagration known as “Armageddon.”

That’s why I believe in climate change. But it’s not the imaginary kind caused by carbon dioxide. It’s caused by the Creator of carbon dioxide – and everything else.

He’s still got a plan for this land of Israel. And He is absolutely intolerant of anyone or anything that interferes with it.

And considering the tremendous amount of rainfall we had here in Israel just this past week, I would say that G-d is still on our side (even if Atara isn’t).

I would just like to remind Atara of two things: (1) even our patriarchs, matriarchs, and greatest leaders like Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) and Dovid Hamelech (King David)  were not perfect and (2) of the sin of the spies’ (Numbers ch. 13-14) derogatory report about the land of Israel and the aftermath.

As for me,  I’m a proud Jew, proud of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, and honored to be living in our land.

Life in the U.S.: A Reality Check for Olim (and others)

Making aliyah is a process, from the decision to make aliyah to the actual move, to learning the ins and outs of how to make a life here, and everything in between.  Spiritually, the blessings of living here are incomparable, but culturally and materially, some things are better, some are not, and some are just different. What I’ve learned along the way is that while we get used to different ways of doing things, we must not idealize what we left behind because we could be wrong. It’s important for American (and all olim) to discuss these issues and get feedback in order to negotiate the aliyah, but a U.S. reality check is important too. “Listening” to what people are opining on various aliyah forums brought this home to me.

Once we opened a file with Nefesh B’Nefesh  (the wonderful organization dedicated to helping North Americans and Brits make aliyah), we subscribed to their  Yahoo! group created for people expecting to make, or who have already made, aliyah under their auspices. This rather lively forum provides an important conversation medium for people planning their homecoming and provides critical support in navigating through Israeli life and culture after one has finally deplaned at Ben Gurion. All sorts of aliyah-related questions are asked and answered on this forum: from what to send in a lift and what to leave behind; information about communities, electrical transformers,  getting the best rates when changing currency, the availability of foods and other products like we used to get “back home” (such as my yellow butter); to finding a good cell phone  provider at a reasonable rate. (We are extremely grateful to Yonatan Ruback at: An oleh who saw the difficulties family members had getting proper service, Yonatan became a cellphone “broker” and set about helping his family and others get good service at a good price. We could never have gotten the deal on our own (even if we’d had flawless Hebrew) that he was able to get for us, actually saving us hundreds of shekels.)

At times rather extended conversations take place regarding the pros and cons of different aspects of  life in Israel. Earlier in the year the conversation was about the cost of living in Israel, spurred on by the “cottage cheese” boycott and Globes magazine’s articles about the high cost of many products in Israel, which I blogged about here. A recent  toshav chozer (a citizen returning to Israel after many years abroad) to Haifa contributes frequent updates about his varied experiences and concerns. The most recent  debate centered around whether making aliyah is too difficult. The wonderful stories that people contributed about their “only in Israel”  and “WOW” experiences  here, despite any hardships encountered, actually helped one olah convince her mother to make aliyah.

Another topic that is popular on forums for olim is job hunting in Israel. Cultural differences, lack of Hebrew, differences in pay scale,  transferring professional credentials, etc.,  are all issues that have to be be dealt with. Our perception often becomes clouded and we think it would be easier to find something in the States. For some people that is the case, but for many finding a job is a challenge there as well; the unemployment rate has gone up quite precipitously in the U.S. in the last couple of years, while it has remained considerably lower in Israel. A particular job issue raised in various forums is that older olim have a harder time finding work. (It’s supposed to be illegal here, just as it is in the U.S., to ask a prospective employee their age, but many employers in Israel have no compunction about asking age before anything else.)  As a matter of fact, a family friend who’s been here for many years is considering returning to the States because he feels the job opportunities are better for him there, not expecting that age could become an issue. I’ve maintained, however, that age can be just as much an issue for job seekers  in the States as it is here, the only difference being that the “discrimination” is less blatant.  And in fact, I received an email from a friend with whom I’d had just such a conversation:

Caryn, take a look if you can at an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (“Oldest boomers in U.S…..) about one of the items you mentioned last Shabbat — the difficulties of older workers in finding employment. It confirms your opinion.

That it does. The complete title of the article written by  E.S. Browning, Oldest Baby Boomers Face Jobs Bust,  is telling.

Older people have more trouble finding new jobs. Among unemployed workers older than 55, more than half have been looking for more than two years, compared with 31% of younger workers, according to the Heldrich Center. Among older workers who found a new job, 72% took a pay cut, often a big one, the Rutgers data show.

The problem has been building for decades: Inflation-adjusted, middle-class incomes have stagnated in parallel with a free-spending culture of indebtedness that has left many Americans with too little saved. Over the same time, many U.S. companies cut pensions and shifted to less-generous retirement-savings plans such as 401(k) accounts that have stagnated or diminished in the market tumult of past years.

Older families aren’t just failing to save, they are increasingly draining accounts that were supposed to help finance retirement.

The English edition of Mishpacha Magazine (Issue #389, pg. 32) recently made mention of this issue as well in their Business & Technology section:

Flex-Pay>> Fortune advises job applicants over 50 to preempt age issues. Turn age into an asset by emphasizing experience; describe your flexible management style to deflect fears that you’re too set in your ways; cite experience working successfully with a younger boss to allay that common concern. And by this stage in your life, it is often wise to keep in mind that it sometimes pays to be flexible about pay.

It’s not that financial concerns aren’t real, and the blatant discrimination is definitely troubling but I think as Americans (I don’t know about other Anglos) we tend to aggrandize what we had/have in the U.S. and we magnify the challenges we encounter in Israel, as well. The reality in the U.S., as outlined in these articles, is far different from what many of us have been led to believe and maybe not that much different than it is here in Israel. (Unless of course you’re the president or prime minister – then, for some reason, it doesn’t matter how old you are.)

The discussions we have are important in helping us acclimate to a new situation. However, it’s important to remember that no matter where we are, there will always be some challenges for us to deal with; if it’s not one thing, then it’ll be another.  In many respects, the situation in the U.S. is no longer the one we actually left behind — nor some rosy one we’ve painted in our imaginations.  Having made the effort to pack up our belongings and move halfway around the globe for a more fulfilling and meaningful life, it’s important to do a reality check and not let false perceptions sour our experiences. The sooner we recognize this, the easier it will be to accommodate a new reality and find creative ways of overcoming these challenges. Just ask Yonatan.

(Conversely, if you are contemplating aliyah, life in Israel has much to offer that could never be had in the U.S., or any other country for that matter. It’s important to recognize that the dismal picture often painted in the media about this country is not the reality. To live in Israel you don’t need rose-colored glasses; in many ways life here really is rosier. Come and do your own reality check.)

Oh, It’s a Happy Chanukah In Israaaael….

Oh, it’s a happy Chanukah in Israaaael
Menorahs make your heart so light!
When the day is gray and ordinary
Sufganityot* make the sun shine bright!
Oh, happiness is blooming all around here
The daffodils are smiling at the dove
When Chanukah comes to the land, you feel so grand
Your heart starts beating like a Big Brass Band
Oh, it’s a  happy Chanukah in Israaaael
No wonder that it’s Chanukah that we love! **

Celebrating the Jewish holidays in Israel is a very different experience than observing them in the States because here the whole country is celebrating with you. I’m not sure how long the WOW factor lasts after aliyah (it’s almost 1 ¼ years for us) – I hope it never goes away – but  I’m still amazed and delighted that what used to be for me a communal event is a national celebration here and I’m part of it!

Billboard Magazine's Chanukah Cover

Even Billboard Magazine gets into the Chanukah spirit!

Chanukah even ranks top in the Jerusalem Post’s Billboard Magazine; full of movie, TV, and entertainment listings, Chanukah gets the front cover and the magazine features a variety of Chanukah events taking place around the country. And, it’s the only holiday which takes front and center at this time of year!

Listening to the radio on the holidays (or any other time) also has that WOW factor, since now I don’t have to tune to one specific station and/or for a few specific limited hours during the day to listen to Jewish thoughts, ideals, and values. What a pleasure to turn on the radio and hear discussions about issues affecting the country as a Jewish country,  divrei Torah (words of Torah) about the upcoming parsha (weekly Torah portion), and callers trying to answer questions posed by the host about Chanukah. When I tuned in  last night people were calling  in their answers to questions such as

“What’s the reason why Chanukah is celebrated for eight rather than seven nights?  Since the jug of oil found with the Kohen Gadol‘s (High Priest) seal had enough oil to burn for one night then the miracle was only about the extra seven nights.” (See bottom of post for answer.)

What a pleasure!

This past Sunday evening I met a wonderful woman at the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum, Sharon Altshul, who takes pictures of what’s really happening in Jerusalem and posts them on her website The Real Jerusalem Streets. Despite what the mainstream media chooses to headline, there’s always a different picture that they haven’t shown you (usually on purpose) and she proudly tells the world (her readership spans the globe) about the other,  real story that is happening here.  This is what’s happening in Jerusalem around Chanukah time:

10 Signs that Chanukah is Coming

It can be spelled differently in English every year,
but the Chanukah season in Jerusalem is very consistent.
There are 10 sure signs that Chanukah is on its way.

1. The piles of sufganiot in all bakeries

begin to disappear at an astonishing rate.

2. Street decorations are up

Click here for  8 more signs that Chanukah is coming to Jerusalem.

Answer to question above – When we pour  water from one container into the next, all the water is transferred; however, when we pour oil from one container to the next there is always some that remains behind. So, even though the oil in the jug was enough to burn for one night, when it was poured into the Menorah some oil remained in the jug. Therefore, there was not enough oil in the Menorah for even one night. The fact that the Menorah stayed lit that first night was a miracle as well!

 * Sufganiyot – donuts cooked in oil
** with thanks to

Oh, It’s a Happy Chanukah In Israaaael….



How Yellow My Butter

Churning Butter

Got raw milk?

Over the last 10-11 years we have overhauled our pantry and refrigerator; we did away with  most of the processed foods, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils, bottled dressings, soy burgers, white flour, cold breakfast cereals, Betty Crocker, Skippy, and much more. Margarine, which we used sparingly before with meat or pareve foods, now  became a dirty word in our house. Instead, we bought cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, sea salt, whole-grain breads and flours, organic cake mixes, omega-3 eggs and free-range eggs, organic vegetables (price permitting), raw milk, organic butter, and many more natural and minimally- or un-processed foods. We started reading labels — if there were too many ingredients, additives, or other stuff that didn’t need to be in there, we put the “food” back on the shelf.  While not perfect (we all have our vices) we tried as much as we could to become (thanks to Dr. Harry Schick) adherents of Dr. Weston A. Price‘s nutritional philosophy and practitioners of “Politically Incorrect Nutrition.”

In Highland Park and Lakewood, NJ, where we lived while transforming our diet, we came to know where we could find the foods we wanted – which stores and which aisles. I got my organic butter, eggs, and vegetables in Shoprite (a large supermarket chain); organic grains, palm oil, and coconut oil from the health food stores or NPGS, a kosher supermarket in Lakewood, which also carried a selection of organic and natural foods and was often a little cheaper than Shoprite and the health food stores.  I really had it down pat by the time we were ready to make aliyah.

So, it was important to us that wherever we moved to in Israel we would have access to as much unadulterated, natural, and organic foods as possible.  Rehovot we were told, had at least 3 health food stores. But moving to a different country, or sometimes just to a different city, means that even though you had shopping down to a science before, you have to start from scratch all over again. I wasn’t quite prepared for that. Or the kashrut issues – mehadrin vs.  not mehadrin… private certifications… certifications (most) that require a magnifying glass to read… For Pesach we discovered products with two different types of certification on the same label – one certification indicating that the food was kosher but not Kosher for Passover and the  other certification specifically indicating that the item was Kosher for Passover. Huh? *

It’s gotten a lot easier since, but the first time I went to the supermarket I spent an eternity buying very few items. My knowledge of the Hebrew language  is more biblical than modern so words like resek  or tarkiz referring to (tomato) paste or sauce, respectively, were unfamiliar to me. And, a lot of additives are identified by E-numbers (probably makes it easier to hide chemicals that way).  So, besides figuring out what I was looking at on the shelf, I was checking prices, reading ingredients (to the best of my ability) and kashrut certifications (without the benefit of a magnifying glass). By the time I left the store, I had a tremendous headache and much gratitude to my new friend Rochelle who had taken me there and patiently waited while I had my first experience of supermarket shock.

We eventually found many of the items we were looking for. I was very relieved to  find yellow butter. Color is a significant indication of the nutritional value of the food; yellow is the color that butter should be, a sign that the cows were grass-fed and the butter contains the vitamins it should. It costs significantly more than the colorless Tnuva butter sold here since it’s imported, but so did the yellow organic butter we were buying in New Jersey, and I prefer nutrition. We were still searching for other items , and with yet others we weren’t sure about the reliability of their private kashrut certifications. It was beginning to become quiet distressing for me all around, until I realized that I had time. I would do what I could now and leave the rest until we were more settled, even if it was next year.

I remembered that the nutritional changes we made in the States took time… time till we absorbed the information we were reading and understood the pros and cons of the different products… time till we were able to incorporate them into our diet. It involved a lot more cooking; no more ready-to-eat blintzes, kugels, cakes and cookies with endless strange ingredients, and other prepared foods that contained ingredients nobody would have on their kitchen shelves, or ingredients I would no longer use, and canned goods were kept to a minimum. Eventually I started sprouting my own beans, soaking grains to remove the anti-nutrient phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors  which they contain, and other measures to ensure a more nutritious diet. Some things I found easier to do than others, some were more successful, and some fell by the wayside, to be picked up again at another time. It wasn’t planned this way, it just happened and I was okay with it. It was all part of the process.

Applying this “all part of the process” philosophy while acclimating to Israel, to the different variety of foods and related issues here, the different shopping experiences, and to other cultural and lifestyle differences as well, is helping to make our transition a lot easier and much more pleasant. Kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are difficult,  the Hebrew saying goes, but there’s no mitzvah in making it even harder by pressuring myself.

* We were told that the first agency, which certifies for the rest of the year, doesn’t certify the food for Passover; however, the second agency does. We are still stymied by this. Since the Passover labels are not  used all year round  it would be easy to remove the first certification which can only cause confusion.