Only hours before the beginning of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, the historic holiday when "the few overcame the many," the IDF hosted a special swearing-in ceremony at Yad La’Shiryon, the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun.
At the event, 12 soldiers with physical disabilities were sworn into the IDF as part of the Special in Uniform project.
The ceremony was heavily attended by IDF commanders; representatives of the Special in Uniform Association, which integrates young adults with physical disabilities into the IDF; and proud family members. Emotions ran high and there was hardly a dry eye in the audience as the soldiers, who have been integrated for the past month into Home Front Command alongside peers, took turns ascending to the stage and receiving their pin and volunteer certificate.
For decades, adolescents with disabilities were resigned to staying at home while their peers valiantly served their country. Now, they have access to new opportunities and quality of life, as well as a potential career to follow after their army service.
Sitting in the audience among the proud parents was Chagit Ron-Rabinowitz, mother of Illi, a soldier with autism.
"I'm so excited to be here today," said Chagit. "For Illi, this represents the climax of a long and difficult journey that allows him to integrate positively into Israeli society. Israel serves as a model par excellence for countries around the world in its consideration and care for its disabled, making room and welcoming them even into its armed forces, which is the spearhead of Israeli society. Here, our children are valued, and they are encouraged to utilize their strengths and talents like his peers."
The Home Front Command’s Special in Uniform program integrates its soldiers into a variety of duties. Israel's Home Front Command is charged with reinforcing national strength and security and saving lives. The Command does this by preparing civilian areas prior to international conflicts, dispatching life-saving teams in times of attacks, and facilitating the quick rehabilitation of civilian areas following conflict.
The Home Front Command also issues regular instructions and orders regarding civilian defense needs, especially in times of emergencies, and operates the 104 emergency hotline. It likewise engages in search and rescue missions in Israel and around the world, aiding in rescue and recovery from incidents such as terror attacks, floods, conflagrations, etc.
Yael Leventin of JNF-USA, which funds Special in Uniform, said, "Today’s ceremony was both stimulating and compelling. It’s important to us to partner in this outstanding system that advances society and leaves no one behind. In our opinion, this is what constitutes a complete society—when each and every individual has the possibility and opportunity to contribute his maximum and succeed."
Etti Avi-Oz, one of the soldiers who took her oath at today’s ceremony, noted, "It was really fun and exciting to be part of this ceremony, and I feel privileged to play such a significant role in it. I worked really hard to make it here, to be part of the march, part of everything."
"All my life, my dream was to contribute my strengths to my country, and now I’m really excited to be doing it along with everyone else. I spent a full year fighting to achieve my dream, and here I am today, a full-fledged volunteer soldier. My message to anyone who wants to achieve this goal and join the army is, 'You can do it! Don’t let anything stand in your way! You can achieve whatever you want!'"
Israel’s pioneering project integrating youth with special needs into the IDF has piqued international interest and garnered tremendous positive feedback across the board.
"Associations and parties around the world have appealed to us in order to understand and attempt to emulate our model," Special in Uniform's Tiran Attia said. "We explain and demonstrate how special individuals gladly volunteer their abilities to benefit the country, and we enable them to do so by channeling their strengths into tasks that they can perform well."
"We believe that we are leading the way in what will soon become an international revolution to improve the quality of life of individuals with special needs—not only in the army, but in all realms of life."