In a moving ceremony that took place last week at the Etzion regional brigade base, 23-year-old Naftali Stubin of Passaic, New Jersey, received the Outstanding Soldier award from the base's commander, Col. David Shapira. Stubin is one of 25 young adults with special needs studying in the Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu program, a unique initiative run by the Ohr Torah Stone network which makes the "year-in-Israel" experience enjoyed by Jewish youth from all over the world accessible to everyone.
The program enables young adults with special needs to learn Torah and connect to the land of Israel, just like other young adults their age. The program also provides them with life skills and trains them in job skills, as well as organizing daily vocational placements in a variety of businesses and institutions. Furthermore, Darkaynu students also volunteer in a variety of frameworks.
"Our goal is not only for our students to spend time in Israel and enjoy the quintessential Israeli experience but that they contribute to the country as well," says Avi Ganz, director of Darkaynu's men's program. "The volunteer work they carry out in different settings helps them develop their personalities and connect to members of the local community, as well as provides them with a huge sense of accomplishment from knowing that they have something to contribute to society."
One of these volunteer settings is the Etzion regional brigade base. “Our students don IDF uniforms every other week and provide crucial support to the Etzion base by unloading deliveries and preparing food, sorting and organizing uniforms, helping with general base upkeep, and organizing ammunition and weapons,” reports Ganz. “In Tehillim it says that the world is built through kindness - our students give of themselves to society because everyone has something to contribute in bettering the world."
At the ceremony each student received a framed certificate, thanking them for their dedicated service to the state of Israel, and Stuben was presented with the “Outstanding Soldier” award by Col. David Shapira, commander of the base.
“The IDF is a people’s army - it’s an integral part of Israeli life and society,” said Shapira. “Every single person has what to contribute, and each contributes in his own way. That’s what fuels Israel and makes this country so special, and that's why it's important to us at the Etzion base to be an inclusive and accessible community."
"The graduating ceremony and the certificates of excellence which were awarded on the base were very significant for our students, who had worked hard throughout the year and were very excited to have reached this moment," said Ganz. "It proved that people with special needs can give of themselves to the community and to society – and even excel in it – just like everybody else."
Ohr Torah Stone president and yeshivah dean, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, said: "We have a responsibility to the entire Jewish people, both in Israel and in the Diaspora. The Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Program is part of Ohr Torah Stone's overarching vision of connecting to each part of our nation, appreciating the God-given talents of all our children and helping each one actualize his or her full potential, no matter what their personal circumstances are."