Shalva IDF volunteers
Shalva IDF volunteersShalva

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services announced that it will be partnering with Shalva to carry out its newest national initiative: the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in volunteer military service with the IDF. The Shalva National Center in Jerusalem will be housing the majority of male soldiers in the program, up to 50 beginning in 2019. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, the IDF, and Shalva are currently conducting preliminary preparatory stages ahead of the program’s official launch.

The IDF has been integrating various privately sponsored programs for soldiers with disabilities since 2013. The success of these special units has been a source of pride for Israelis and Jews around the world as a reflection of the IDF’s moral measure. Nevertheless, the Ministry’s equality clause concerning military service for individuals with disabilities marks a pivotal landmark in Israel’s social development; which has been straddling the line between social policy and government policy until now.

The individuals with disabilities in the Ministry’s new program will be enlisting, albeit on volunteer basis, for the standard three years of military service as part the IDF’s Home Front Command Unit. Residence as well as social support activities will take place at the Shalva National Center. Inaugurated by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in 2016, the center houses some of Israel’s largest and most advanced disability accessible facilities. It was also recently designated by the Israeli government and the IDF to be an emergency shelter for people with disabilitiesduring times of national crisis.

“We are proud to be part of this national movement toward inclusion and equality for people with disabilities in Israel,” says Kalman Samuels, founder and president of Shalva. “Together we are building a healthier, stronger, more inclusive society.”

Shalva was founded in 1990 by Kalman and Malki Samuels, parents of a child with disabilities, to provide care and support for children with disabilities and their families. Over the years, the organization has grown to serve thousands of individuals with disabilities on a regular basis through a constellation of programs; such as early intervention therapies and inclusive education from birth through adulthood. The organization has been influential in implementing new standards for inclusion in social, cultural, and academic spheres; recently assuming consultative status to the United Nations. Shalva’s newest program is independent living in the community; offering apartment housing, employment, and social services to adults with disabilities throughout Jerusalem.