After a full year of volunteering for the IDF on the Palmachim Air Base in the framework of Special in Uniform, Shachak Shriki, Liron Nathan, Liel Katzav and Roi Kaufman, all of whom are youth with assorted physical and mental deficiencies, became full-fledged soldiers in the IDF.

Special in Uniform, a joint project of the IDF, Lend-a-Hand to a Special Child, and JNF-USA, integrates youth with physical disabilities into the IDF, imbuing them with pride in themselves and their abilities and enabling them to function independently and contribute positively to society.

Four adolescents with special needs received their teudat hoger (soldier identification cards) today. These young people enlisted in the IDF via the framework of Special in Uniform, a groundbreaking initiative which incorporates young people with disabilities into the military and helps them integrate long-term into society and the workforce.

A red carpet was rolled out opposite the Mesubim Gate in the Bakum, and to the sound of trumpets playing, Shachak Shriki, Liron Nathan, Liel Katzav and Roi Kaufman fell into their parents’ arms, proudly showing off their very own Soldier’s ID that they’ve yearned and worked for so long to attain. In the framework of the Special in Uniform program, members volunteer for one year in the army, train and learn important skills before they graduate to become full-fledged soldiers.

Deb Kaufman, Roi’s mom, relates: “Roi is 22 years old and suffers from VCF syndrome which is often expressed in heart defects, a cleft palate, anomalies in the skull, and most obvious to all, ADD and slight retardation. He is capable of functioning normally, but he needs to be coached and trained as if he were a child of 11.”

“Roi is very verbal,” she adds. “He’s spent the last year on Palmachim Airbase working for information systems, cleaning knives, kitchen duty, and deliveries. His lifelong dream was to be a soldier, to know that he could contribute to society like everyone else. Until last year, his life took the typical route of kids in the special educational system. He followed a very specific educational program in school and in a remedial afternoon program.

“When he graduated twelfth grade, his high school in Ness Ziona, Tomer, offered assorted options for the future, one of which was to volunteer in the army. Due to his disabilities, Roi had received an automatic exemption, but that wasn’t enough to deter him. He was determined to volunteer for the army, and after a year, [his superiors], who recognized and appreciated his skills and capabilities recruited him to their ranks.

“For me, this is an awesome victory, a miracle! It’s so meaningful to me that people appreciate Roi for who he is and that he is able to contribute to society like all others. Personally, I see tremendous improvement in his self-esteem and confidence; he’s changed completely. He’s become more diligent; he can solve much more complex problems than before he started volunteering. Yet the cherry on top is seeing his relationship with his girlfriend. The two were placed in the same army track, and now he’s a regular guy!”

Special in Uniform is internationally acclaimed for its unique, experiential and effective programs in which participants undergo evaluation and assessment by a professional team, followed by a three-month course teaching life and occupational skills. One of the major goals of the project is to imbue young people with disabilities with pride in themselves and their abilities, to function independently, and contribute positively to society.

Today, the brand-new soldiers stood with shining eyes on a raised platform built especially for them. Chairman of Lend a Hand to a Special Child Lt. Col. (Res.) Gabi Ophir distributed the caps and dog tags together with the President of Special in Uniform and Afcon Chairman Israel Reif.

Another new soldier, Shachak Shriki, 18, of Kiryat Ono is on the autistic spectrum, and he’s earned the title of Special in Uniform Progenitor. With shining eyes, he related his story and vividly describes his adjustment to life in the army. He laughingly recounts that he did not tell a single friend about his disability, as he was eager to start a fresh life, without any stigmas...

“That I already done!” shares Shriki. “Now I’m on my way to realizing new and more ambitious dreams!”

Yossi Kahana of JNF-USA, which co-sponsors Special in Uniform, expresses: “Purim is a time of joy, of celebration and miracles, a time when our nation was united. Special in Uniform is a phenomenal initiative, unmatched anywhere else in the world, and it highlights the exceptional unity and compassion of our nation. For all us here today, this is a very special and joyous occasion. The fact that these kids are standing here today, full-fledged soldiers in the IDF, is nothing short of a Purim miracle!”

Special soldiers join the IDF
Special soldiers join the IDFSpecial in uniform