Fifteen graduates of a school for special needs children in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod had a very exciting day last week, when they were recruited to serve in the Israeli military.
They reported to the IDF recruitment center in Rehovot along with their parents and the educational staff from their school, and will serve in the unit especially created for recruits like them.
Each new recruit was assigned a uniform, dog tag and a beret.
A volunteer, Sahar Ben-Hamo, gave an encouraging speech to the new recruits. "Some friends believe in you and say you can accomplish anything your set your minds to, while others say you cannot. They just like to underestimate your industriousness, but you showed them you're up to the task. You're the winners because you're stronger than they are."
Their recruitment to the military was possible thanks to a unique IDF program that aims to integrate special needs youth in the army.
The "Gdolim Bemadim" ("Big in Uniform") program has already helped recruit close to a thousand handicapped youth, while hundreds are still on the program's waiting list. The “Yad LaYeled HaMeyuchad (“Lend a Hand to a Special Child”) association, which funds the program, is looking for other means to finance this initiative.
The Gdolim Bemadim graduates get to experience industrial work with the rest of the soldiers, helping them shed misconceptions about handicapped youth and integrate into the society.
Dozens of companies have lent a hand already, and not just financially. The Adama Agan company, which specializes in manufacturing chemical-based materials for agricultural use, has been helping out in accompanying the recruits all throughout their service.
Hadran Olami, Adama Agan's manufacturing director, said the recruits will "make us a stronger society."
Lend a Hand to a Special Child Executive Director Rabbi Menachem Mendel Belinitzky addressed the recruits: "There's nothing better than to see the spark in the eyes of those recruits and their parents. It's spontaneous and it takes everyone's breath away."