Miriam Peretz lost one son fighting in Lebanon and a second son in the Gaza clashes. Several months later, her husband was diagnosed with terminal illness and passed away shortly after, yet her inherent faith and optimism refused to allow her to succumb to the heartbreak. Instead, the beloved Israeli lecturer and educator grew from her challenges to become a popular lecturer on Zionism and living with loss and was awarded the Israel Prize in 2018 for lifetime achievement.
In an effort to open discussion and encourage youth with disabilities — and their parents — to reach for the stars, she recently revealed another one of her personal challenges to the Israeli public: Miriam has two grandchildren on the autistic spectrum.
She relates that upon learning of their children’s mental disabilities, her son and daughter-in-law were devastated.
“But eventually, my son told me, ‘Mom, I prayed for this child. I want him, and I was blessed with him.’ Parents of children with special needs are hand-picked for this sacred task. They are the ones who are worthy of raising these children, nourishing them, and guiding them to success and achievement,” Peretz expressed emotionally on a Keshet 12 TV special broadcast promoting awareness of people with disabilities and the benefits of an inclusive society.
Participating in the broadcast was also Lihi Lapid, wife of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), a journalist, photographer and author, as well as a mother of a child with autism. During the broadcast, Lapid spoke openly of how her daughter joined the IDF in the framework of Special in Uniform.
Another individual who appeared on the broadcast was Major Riki Golan who shared her inspirational, heartwarming journey that began as an adolescent with cerebral palsy who received an automatic army exemption and continued with her astonishing rise through the ranks to become a highly-respected officer in the IDF.
An affiliate of JNF-USA that integrates young people with disabilities into the IDF and Israeli society, Special in Uniform builds upon the unique talents of each individual to help him or her find a job within the IDF that is a perfect fit, based on the credo that everyone belongs and has the right to reach his or her full potential. Special in Uniform focuses on the ability, not the disability, of each individual, encouraging transformation, independence and integration into society.
The heartwarming story of Special in Uniform has taken flight, inspiring countries and nations around the world. Recently, a delegation arrived from the USA to Israel to learn about the program and seek means of adapting it to the United States’ Armed Forces.
Throughout history, there was a universal stigma against individuals with physical and mental disabilities. Yet Israeli society is spearheading a revolution; and with each passing day, the international community grows more open to inviting those with different capacities to integrate into mainstream society, which benefits not only them but humanity at large. While their strengths and talents may be different from the average Joe’s, they can be properly channeled and maximized to achieve impressive attainments.
One of Miriam’s grandchildren, for example, “is a genius,” she relates. “He’s all of five years old, but he knows how to take roots from numbers and speaks fluent English. If one only looks, one can easily see how society needs them.”
As a captivating orator, Peretz was asked to participate in a public campaign to encourage tourism to the Holy City.
“I love Jerusalem,” she shares with a broad grin, “it’s my favorite city in the world, and I participated wholeheartedly in the campaign on a voluntary basis, for the love of the city, never asking or expecting anything in return.” When the campaign managers still insisted on remunerating her efforts with a whopping fifty thousand shekels, Peretz determined to donate it to a worthy cause, but couldn’t decide where.
After meeting with Riki Golan, Lihi Lapid and her daughter, and others, Miriam knew exactly what she would do.
“I decided to donate it to Special in Uniform,” she proudly declares, “to the young men and women who are true stars, to the special army that welcomes and integrates them, and in honor of all those who are sensitive and care, who don’t discriminate among people and who appreciate that we’re all equal.”