Newest IDF recruit: 'At age 15, I woke up blind, and was sure my life was over'

A dream come true: The amazing story of Daniel Defour, newest IDF recruit: 'Grateful to IDF and Special in Uniform for opening the door.'

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Daniel Defour
Daniel Defour
Special in Uniform

This is the amazing story of Daniel Defour, who went blind at the age of 15.

Defour’s greatest dream was to join the IDF, and following an appeal to Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he began his official volunteer stint in the army: On Thursday, July 23, 2020, Daniel was officially inducted into the Israel Defense Forces.

It’s certainly not every day that one meets a blind soldier; and indeed there may be no historical precedent for it at all, since visual impairment, as practically any physical disability, has long been grounds from military exemption. Yet this week, one blind young man from Tel Aviv named Daniel Defour achieved what everyone said was impossible when he received his official soldier’s ID and became a full-fledged soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.

Born prematurely twenty-one years ago and weighing barely one pound, Daniel Defour was a miracle baby. He spent the first few months of his life in the NICU, where he was diagnosed with the dreaded retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), commonly known as Terry syndrome, a disease of the eye that affects premature babies who receive neonatal intensive care and oxygen therapy to facilitate lung development.

At the age of 13, exactly one week after his bar mitzvah, the disease returned with a vengeance. Daniel underwent seven eye surgeries in desperate attempt to rescue his rapidly failing eyesight, yet two years later, his world, quite literally, turned black when he awoke one morning completely blind.

“I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to scream from fear; I was sure my life was over,” relates Daniel. “I was devastated, and I wanted to bury myself.” Yet in the midst of the murky darkness, a small beam of light and hope still shined in his heart, a gleaming ray of determination, willpower and perseverance. With the loving support of family and teachers, Daniel discovered that there was still a tomorrow, that there was still meaning to life. He enrolled in the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind where he was taught to see and read with his other four senses.

“Many times I was tempted to throw the towel in, to give up, but then I’d remember that I couldn’t give up because I was placed in this world with a goal and purpose that is mine alone, and I was determined to achieve it,” he related.

Since early childhood, Daniel had been obsessed with cars. As a boy of four, he received his first gift of a model car which was destined to become the first in an impressive collection of dozens of model cars from around the world. When he was 17, he wrote a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu describing his passion for cars and requesting a five-minute ride with him in his legendary armored limousine.

On July 15, 2017, Daniel was astounded to learn that the Prime Minister himself had read his letter and extended his personal invitation for Daniel to meet him at the Knesset. The promised 5-minute ride in Netanyahu’s Audi segued into a two-and-half hour long meeting, in the course of which Mr. Netanyahu asked the courageous young man about his other dreams.

“Mr. Prime Minister,” replied Daniel passionately, “My greatest wish of all is to join the IDF and serve my country.” Little did he imagine that this brief comment would be the catalyst to set his dream into motion.

Deeply impressed by the young man’s resolve and commitment, the Prime Minister’s Office contacted Special in Uniform to recommend Daniel Defour into their program.

A revolutionary program of the Israel Defense Forces in conjunction with Lend-A-Hand to A Special Child and JNF-USA, Special in Uniform incorporates young people with mild physical and mental disabilities into Israel’s military, offering them training and skills which 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 each individual, and encourages independence, inclusion and full integration into society.

Special in Uniform’s two-year volunteer training program culminates with graduating youths receiving their soldier’s IDs and being placed in military bases across Israel where they cull from the knowledge and skills that they acquired to perform important jobs on base, forgetting their disabilities and focusing instead on their versatile abilities and talents. At Special in Uniform, teens 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, later, the workforce.

In the past decade, thousands of young citizens with physical and mental disabilities have contributed their part to Israel’s military. Over the years, the program has increased by a thousand percent, expanding from 50 to 500 participants in 35 army bases around the country, with a long waiting list. Its passionate leaders are ambitiously planning to ramp up enrollment to 1,000 participants by 2023. Yet despite the fantastic growth of Special in Uniform, the inclusion of a blind young man into their ranks was still unheard of, but both Daniel and Special in Uniform’s directors were determined to make it work.

Daniel joined Special in Uniform as a volunteer for the army, maintaining this status for two years. This past week, on Thursday, July 23, 2020, he realized his goal as he was inducted as a full-fledged soldier into the IDF.

“I’m very happy to serve my country,” Daniel expressed emotionally, “and I know that I will serve it well. I am so grateful to the IDF and Special in Uniform for opening up the door to me into the vocational world, into the adult world.”

He added a special message to others, imparting a message of hope and perseverance that has been his motto and guiding light since the day he permanently lost his eyesight: “I want to say to every kid in Israel who doesn’t believe in himself that you can change the IDF. You can change the world! Don’t say, ‘I can’t,’ don’t say, ‘I won’t,’ because that will only lead you far, far away from your dreams. Instead, say ‘I will!’ Strive to overcome your obstacles, because you can do it, and then you surely will!”

Daniel Defoe finally joins the IDF Special in Uniform