“Can you hold my gun the first time?” Ohad asks the commander. “I am afraid the bullet casing will hit me in the hand.”
Teens use sports to help special needs kids
“Ten bullets at the target – fire!” the officer screams and Ohad Zohar, 15, overcomes his fears, pushes the trigger and shoots without seeing a thing.
The shooting range is the highlight of the Gadna week for blind teens and part of a joint program of the Jewish Institute for the Blind in Jerusalem and the Defense Ministry.
Over four days, the Gadna puts the kids in uniform, and takes them through lessons in military culture and IDF values, a march with an open stretcher and field lessons – just like regular kids their age, who go through the Gadna experience to get a taste of what will be in store for them during military service.
“They didn’t make exceptions for us,” said Adi Kushner, 15, blind since birth. “We did pushups, kitchen duty, a stretcher march and went to the shooting range.
"The range was special, scary and exciting; it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A blind person shooting a gun – that’s like, wow. The commanders helped me aim and I shot. I was very excited.”
Kushner studies at a regular school in Hadera but could not participate in the Gadna experience with the rest of his class “because I am blind and it was dangerous.”
Inal Khalifa is 15, she is also blind since birth and was very excited to go to the shooting range. “At first I was very nervous, but when the moment came I just shot. It was fun…There was a personal instructor who helped me aim. I was proud, I am blind and here I was holding a rifle and shooting.”
Thirteen girls and boys participated in the program, Youth Together, run by the Education House for the Blind. “The program gives additional experiences to youths who are part of the educational system throughout the country,” says Shavi Deutsch, deputy director of the group. “During vacations and on weekends, we meet them and assist with social issues, both through rehabilitation and emotionally.”
Because of the Gadna experience, Zohar, Kushner and Khalifa know that they want to volunteer for the IDF. Khalifa dreams of serving in an IDF entertainment unit.
Zohar said he trusts the army to send him wherever it thinks appropriate. Prior to his arrival at the Gadna base, he was very excited. “When we got here, it immediately began with ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am!’ It’s different from life at home where you sit there and drink chocolate milk. It was hard to shoot the gun because I couldn’t see anything. I had to put my trust in the commanders who I had known only two days.”
Dalia Yanko, commander of the Gadna unit in the security-social branch of the Defense Ministry, sees great importance in the inclusion of special needs youths within the activities of the Gadna. “Even for the parents who come to the graduation ceremony, it is an emotional experience,” she said. “For some of them, that week is the first time they allow their children to spread their wings.”
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