Just before Passover, the holy day of freedom and togetherness, Special in Uniform and JNF-USA hosted a heartwarming ceremony celebrate the founding of a new unit in the Ami’ad army base. The base is in the Upper Galilee region of northern Israel. The special story about this unit is that the volunteers are from the El-Basma High School in the Kisra-Sumei village, which is home to a mixed Druze, Muslim, and Christian population.
Military service is a rite of passage of sorts for Israeli high school graduates. It is also a gateway to a successful career and future. According to Ministry of Labor, Welfare and Social Services statistics, there are approximately 1,570 children and youth with disabilities in the Israeli Druze, Christian, and Muslim population. Many of their siblings serve in the IDF, yet these youths receive automatic military exemptions due to their disabilities despite their fierce desire to serve their country. Now Special in Uniform is offering these young people a chance to realize their dreams.
A revolutionary project of the Israel Defense Forces in conjunction with JNF-USA, Special in Uniform incorporates young people with mild physical and mental disabilities into Israel’s military. This offers them training and skills that empower them to integrate long-term into Israeli society and the workforce. The program accentuates the unique talents of each participant and places him or her into an appropriate setting within the IDF. Breaking down societal barriers and fostering widespread acceptance of social diversity, Special in Uniform focuses on the ability, not disability, of everyone. It encourages independence, inclusion, and full societal integration. Currently, the program integrates some 500 volunteers with special needs into 40 IDF aerial, marine and land units stretching from the northern Lebanese border south to Eilat.
JNF’s Special in Uniform is a two-year volunteer training program culminating in the graduating youths receiving their soldier’s IDs and being placed in military bases across Israel. There, they utilize the knowledge and skills acquired to perform important jobs on base. They can forget their disabilities and focus instead on their varied abilities and talents. At Special in Uniform, youngsters with low self-worth mature into independent, confident young men and women who believe in themselves and their abilities. Throughout their years of military service, they acquire important social and life skills that empower them to meld seamlessly into society and workforce.
Basic training in the IDF culminates with a ‘Masa Kumta’, which translates as ‘beret journey.’ At the end of this march, fresh inductees mark their passage into becoming full-fledged soldiers and earn their corps beret. In the ceremony marking the founding of the new unit, commanders and soldiers from the unit hiked alongside their SIU comrades in an unforgettable Masa Kumta celebrating these young heroes and their personal and collective triumphs. At the end of the journey, the young volunteers were met by their proud families. Many had watched with tears in their eyes as their children were awarded their berets, dotages, and volunteer certificates.
Accompanied by the Special in Uniform team, the volunteers travel every week to the base. The day begins 8:30am sharp with lineup and a flag ceremony alongside the brigade soldiers. After this the volunteers join crews on base in the Teleprocessing, Logistics and Technology departments. Not only does the presence of soldiers with special needs on military bases increase their own quality of life, but it also benefits the entire army—and by extension, the nation. The genial natures of these volunteers, their capacity and desire to work hard and, above all, their perseverance contribute to a positive atmosphere on base that motivates their fellow soldiers.
At the ceremony, Munir Sayyad, father of volunteer soldier Hiadd, addressed the assembly. He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to Special in Uniform and the remarkable individuals who made it possible for his son and his friends to live their dream.
“At a very young age, my son suffered a trauma that left him with a severe speech impediment. He began in the special education school system, and we’ve continued there since. Since our extended family all serves our country in various capacities be it security, police, border patrol or the army, Hiadd always looked longingly upon his cousins and relatives, all who proudly wore their uniforms and served their country, and asked, ‘Why can’t I?’ Now, with this incredible opportunity, he finally feels like an equal, like everyone else,” the proud dad emotionally shared.
“We’re so impressed with this new unit from the Druze community, and especially the El-Basma volunteers who so deeply yearn to serve and contribute to our country,” said Kobi Malka, North coordinator of Special in Uniform. We launched the program here with an uplifting, emotional beret journey that left us all inspired. Throughout the journey, there was a unifying sentiment of being a soldier, of being an equal, of being part of a community. These kids are here for the community, here to give, here to contribute, here to accomplish. And today, they received their turquoise beret, testimony to their desire to do their utmost to benefit our country and people.”
“It gives me great pride that Special in Uniform continues to grow and enable young adults with different abilities to serve their country just like everyone else. Building on a belief fundamental to Judaism, Special in Uniform believes that no one is to be left behind regardless of their abilities and their backgrounds. It is befitting that Passover – which is the festival of inclusion – is upon us right now because young men and women of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze faiths are all part of Special in Uniform. “To me, inclusiveness is a deeply held Jewish value and I hope it will become a model for society as a whole.” said Alan Wolk, Chair of Special in Uniform, JNF-USA
Tiran Attia, the director of Special in Uniform said “You can feel it in the air! Spring is here and the hope for better times ahead. The intentional timing of Passover occurring in the spring, signals the upcoming period of renewal.”
“When we welcome a new soldier with disabilities to the Army, we recognize their potential for growth. Our team establish personal achievements as a goal; investing hour after hour, year after year, to help our soldiers with disabilities develop to their unique potential.”