Category Archives: Israel Defense Forces

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.”

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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.

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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.

When the Siren Sounds

As new olim we are still often wondering “What should we do when the siren sounds?” Not the kind from an emergency vehicle, but a long siren that can be heard throughout the whole neighborhood. In Israel the siren means one of two things – it’s either a warning to run for shelter from an incoming missile (which we were told has not yet happened, thank G-d, here in Rehovot) or notice of a minute of silence. The first time we heard a siren, several months ago, we were unsure what to do but since no one outside was running to a shelter, we figured it was okay to go about our business. Apparently we weren’t the only Anglos in the dark since queries on the local Yahoo email list had others questioning the purpose of the siren as well. Ultimately it was revealed to be a test and that information could usually be found in advance about siren testing on YNet News, as well as the radio for those who are more fluent in the language. The other morning I heard a long siren and again looked out my window to see what I should do. Since no one was fleeing, I didn’t either, and went to check the YNet site for enlightenment. Realizing that it was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I understood that the siren had been an indication for everyone to stop what they were doing and stand still till it stops.

Not every moment of silence comes with a siren. Several months ago I was walking in the neighborhood listening to the news in Hebrew on my cell phone’s FM radio and heard something about remembering Gilad Shalit, but I didn’t quite understand the whole story. I continued walking for another couple of minutes until I came to a spot where everyone was just standing around near a truck which was unloading. It was really curious since nothing seemed to be going on and I couldn’t imagine that so many people had actually stopped to watch someone unload a truck. So I stopped, stood there, and waited, expecting that I’d eventually find out what was happening. Fortunately, enlightenment wasn’t too long in coming as the woman next to me was soon explaining to an inquiring newcomer – five minutes of silence for Gilad Shalit. Having heard the news before, it all fell into place, and I felt privileged to be able to participate for the remaining time.

a moment of silence during memorial day for th...

A Moment of Silence During Memorial Day. Image via Wikipedia Commons

I was prepared for the siren at eight o’clock last night, this one in commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Many commemoration activities were taking place at that time and they began with a minute of silence. Although I was not able to attend, Andy and Tova did. Rav Simcha Hakohen Kook, Rehovot’s Chief, Rabbi spoke and although they did not understand everything that was said in Hebrew, they were there and counted. Whereas Memorial Day in the States has become another reason for stores to hold sales, in Israel it’s taken quite seriously. In fact, as the blog  A Soldier’s Mother explains:

It is sadly a bit unique in the world in that it is truly a day of mourning. There are no barbecues, no sales, no discounts, no playing on the beach. It is somber, it is heartbreaking, it is agonizing. Cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. are all closed – by law and by desire, there are no places of entertainment open.

In this fledgling state that’s still fighting for its survival, too many people have friends and loved ones who have fallen. Even though we’ve only been here for 8 months so far, there is a great feeling of unity when the siren sounds as we have intertwined our destiny with all those who are living here. The siren sounded promptly at 11 AM this morning. We stood still for the duration.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. One would think these two couldn’t be farther apart, but in fact we only have one because of the other.

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Look who’s supporting our Lone Soldiers

Shortly after publishing my blog post Chayalim Bodidim – Lone Soldiers, three new posts supporting Lone Soldiers appeared on my radar.   1) Groopbuy is offering a 50% discount on tickets, ₪50 for ₪100 for tickets to a Gala Wine Event supporting the Lone … Continue reading

Chayalim Bodidim – Lone Soldiers

According to the Lone Soldier Center: ‘As of January, 2010, there are over 5,000 “chayalim bodidim” or “lone soldiers” serving in the IDF.’

The Lone Soldier, someone who comes to Israel on his/her own to join the IDF, while their family lives abroad, is a phenomenon unique to Israel.* There is no one profile of a chayal boded as these young men and women span the entire religious spectrum; some are Israelis or have parents who are, but most have no formal connection to Israel; some have had an extensive Jewish education while others have come to appreciate their Jewish heritage as teens or young adults; many have come to serve despite their parents’ concerns or objections; and they come from around the globe. These chayalim who leave behind family, often an easy lifestyle, and friends who are in college, to serve in the Israel Defense Forces do so for ideological reasons – to protect and defend their country and their people. To their further credit, unlike their Israeli peers who have grown up knowing that they will one day serve and receive schooling geared toward future service, for Lone Soldiers the decision to serve is their own, made at a later age with no preparation; they do this in a country with a different language and a culture not their own. Perhaps the chayal to whom my daughter gave a rose a while back was a chayal boded.

Unlike the United States whose soldiers are generally sent to serve in foreign military arenas, Israeli soldiers are serving on their own land and usually get leave to go home for Shabbat once every two or three weeks. In fact, the Israeli soldiers’ ability to periodically return home to family was recognized as a factor in the July 2010 article on Israel National News’ website regarding a military study comparing United States and Israeli troops: Study: Post-Traumatic Stress Lowest in IDF. So, the life of lone soldiers who have the weekend off can be particularly lonely as they come back to an empty apartment on a Friday afternoon with no one to welcome them, feed them, or do their laundry.  New-found friends who made aliyah from Toronto, Canada about a year ago have a son who was himself a lone soldier, having come to Israel to serve before his parents emigrated. Our friends told us that the hardest part for them was not that their son was in the military, but that they weren’t here for him, and related to us the kind of incident that tears at a parent’s heart strings. Their son had come back to his empty apartment on a weekend off and washed his only uniform. Not having a dryer he hung it outside to dry (quite common in Israel as most apartments have a line outside one of the windows). Unfortunately, however, it rained and the uniform was not dry when he had to return to his unit. “What did you do?” his mother asked him. “I put it on wet and went back,” was his reply.

On the reception area coffee table of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Yerushalayim offices, there is a pile of books. (Nefesh B’Nefesh offers much pre- and post-aliyah assistance to olim, both one-on-one and via seminars to facilitate absorption into Israeli society and culture.) Sitting there the other day, I picked up a book from the table: Lone Soldiers: Israel’s Defenders from Around the World by Herb Keinon. If there’s a book worth buying, I think it’s this one. I read about courageous men and women, sharpshooters and paratroopers, many who made it and some who fell, and about Tzvika Levy, a leutenent  colonel  and now reservist who oversees the army’s “lone soldier” program and became the “father” of the lone soldiers. At a time when no one noticed them, Tzvika did. He arranges housing for them, Shabbat and holiday hospitality, helps them with all sorts of problems large and small, continues to assist those who remain in Israel after their military service has ended, and says kaddish for those who have fallen. His kaddish list is not short.  I sat there with a tissue in hand, hoping nobody would notice my teary eyes.

Today’s IsraelNationalNews.com  includes this article: Should IDF Service be Mandatory for All – or for None?

*Lone soldiers are also Israeli’s from dysfunctional families who have no place to call home.

To donate to the Lone Soldier center click here.
Another organization Friends of the Israel Defense Forces helps all soldiers including Lone Soldiers. I’m sure there are many others.

Individuals who are considering serving as volunteers in the IDF will find the Mahal very helpful. “Mahal-IDF-Volunteers.org is the leading guide for all would-be overseas enlistees (non-Israelis and Israelis) prior to joining the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). It is not an official website of the State of Israel…” Also  read their article Lone Soldiers.

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