Four teens living with special needs received their teudat hoger (soldier identification cards) March 22. Shachak Shriki, Liron Nathan, Liel Katzav and Roi Kaufman were part of Special in Uniform, an initiative of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in conjunction with Lend-A-Hand to A Special Child and Jewish National Fund-USA that incorporates young people with disabilities into the military and helps them integrate long-term into society and the workforce.
Lt. Col. (Res.) Gabi Ophir, chairman of Lend a Hand to a Special Child distributed the caps and dog tags, along with the President of Special in Uniform and Afcon Chairman Israel Reif.
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.
Special in Uniform is so far the only program of its kind. One of the major goals of the project is to inspire young people who are living with special needs to meet their full potential so they can to function independently and succeed in society.
Earlier in March, U.S. representatives came to Israel to study the program so they may incorporate it in the United States.
Roi’s mother Deb Kaufman, said that Roi, 22, suffers from VCF syndrome, which is often expressed in heart defects, a cleft palate, anomalies in the skull and most visible, attention deficit disorder. Though he is capable of functioning normally, he needs to be coached and trained as if he were a child of 11.
“Roi is very verbal,” his mother said in a statement. “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…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.”
Kaufman added that this “is an awesome victory. 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!”
Another new soldier, Shachak Shriki, 18, of Kiryat Ono, is also on the autistic spectrum, and has earned the title of Special in Uniform Progenitor.
In a statement he recounts that he did not tell a single friend about his disability, as he was eager to start a fresh life, without the stigma.
“That I already done!” Shriki said. “Now I’m on my way to realizing new and more ambitious dreams,”
Jewish National Fund U.S., which co-sponsors Special in Uniform Yossi Kahana, said: “Purim is a time of joy, of celebration and miracles… 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!”