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.