IDF soldiers with disabilities celebrate Tu Bishvat
IDF soldiers with disabilities celebrate Tu Bishvat PR

Tu Bishvat is a holiday which celebrates the New Year for trees.

A tree may be divided into three parts: (a) roots; (b) trunk, branches and leaves; and (c) fruit. Though the roots of a tree are not visible, they serve two vital functions: they support the tree, enabling it to withstand strong winds, and they deliver most of its nourishment.

The trunk, branches and leaves constitute the bulk of the tree’s body, reflect its growth, and make the tree attractive to the onlooker — but they are not its ultimate purpose. It is the fruit that benefits others and contains the seeds which bear the species’ promise for posterity.

Tu Bishvat provides us with many essential, real-life lessons. We celebrate it knowing we will continue to weather the storm of life, no matter what that particular "season" has in store. This is because God, the Source of all blessing, is behind us, providing us with the means to succeed.

For the soldiers of "Special in Uniform," Tu Bishvat has a special meaning. This is the time to receive new inspiration.

"Special in Uniform" is a very special program now operating in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA). Integrating young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), its core belief is that everyone belongs and has the right to reach his or her full potential.

Special in Uniform focuses on the unique talents of each individual participant to help each soldier find a job within the IDF that is a perfect fit for their skills. The attention is on the ability, not the disability, of each individual, encouraging independence and integration into society.

"Using the metaphor of a tree enables our young soldiers with disabilities to speak about their lives in ways that make them stronger," said Program Director Shiri Vardi. "It involves our members in drawing their own ‘tree of life’ in which they get to speak of their ‘roots,’ their skills and knowledge, their hopes and dreams, and the special people in their lives.

"The soldiers then join their trees into a ‘forest of life’ (the Israeli society). In groups, participants discuss some of the ‘storms’ which affect their lives an inclusive or exclusive society and the ways in which they respond to these storms and protect themselves and each other."

Special in Uniform has doubled in size over the past year and now includes 300 soldiers on 15 IDF bases across Israel. The organization aims to raise enrollment to 1,000 soldiers in the next four years. The future looks bright for young people with disabilities; life is ripe with new possibilities.

Now is a time to focus on what is not visible. Now is the time to form the ideas, insights, and actions that will lead to change.

Rabbi Naftali Besser's Chesed Mission led the actual planting of the trees.

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