Jul 21, 2020 By Alan Wolk Category: Special Needs,
Blind Israeli soldier defies all odds, joins IDF full-time
This isn't the first time I've written about my personal experiences working with JNF-USA partner Special in Uniform.
Special in Uniform is a unique program that integrates young adults with autism and other mental and physical disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces and, in turn, into Israeli society. Its core belief is that everyone belongs and has the right to reach his or her full potential.
The program focuses on the unique talents of each individual. Special in Uniform’s team of specialists then works to find a job within the IDF that is perfect for that person’s abilities (not disabilities). The team provides support, therapy, and counseling throughout the participant’s time in the program.
The last time I shared my experience of visiting the program in Israel, my wife Roni and I wondered how programs like Special in Uniform change people’s lives. We talked about the ripple effect that goes way beyond the special-needs populations SIU serves. We know JNF-USA, together with Special in Uniform, is creating a stronger, more inclusive Israeli society, and we, the volunteers, help make this happen. JNF’s tagline is correct: "Your Voice in Israel."
On Wednesday, July 8, I received a phone call that reminded me about MY voice in Israel.
With G-d's help, Special in Uniform produced a miracle, pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Daniel Defur, a blind 20-year-old volunteer/part-time SIU soldier received the medical committee’s approval to become a full-time soldier in the IDF! Retired Lt. Col. Tiran Attia, director of Special in Uniform, Yossi Kahana, director of disability programs at JNF-USA, and I have stayed very focused on Daniel, who is just one out of hundreds of volunteers/soldiers in the SIU program.
We discussed making Daniel a full-time soldier in the IDF for two years and I have never lost the support of Tiran (pictured right, in top photo) along the way. With Special in Uniform leadership and staff, JNF-USA leadership and myself (I have the privilege to serve as the chair of SIU) all pulling together we fulfilled a dream for Daniel and his mom.
Part of Daniel’s role in the IDF has been to make speeches to “typical” soldiers, and his enthusiasm and immense pride in serving his country in a meaningful way is infectious. Additionally, Daniel and his mom Ruth have toured the U.S. with Special in Uniform. Speaking at JNF events in very clear and precise English, Daniel has explained to thousands of attendees the opportunity “to be included” that SIU and JNF-USA have provided.
He says he feels like a hero when he puts on his IDF uniform and wishes to join the IDF full time and defend Israel upon completion of school. I speak to Daniel weekly and the topic of joining the IDF comes into every conversation. Last month he finished school and this month he becomes a soldier.
Only one other blind person is a soldier in the IDF. And, as of now, Daniel is the only blind person in Special in Uniform. Fulfilling his dream was not an easy climb. Daniel lost his sight in his teenage years and has since struggled with the lost opportunities. Special in Uniform has enabled him to find his voice and realize his “abilities” as a compelling and moving speaker. Daniel now knows he has something unique to offer.
My wife and I sponsor a SIU unit at the Tel Nof Air Force Base in Tel Aviv. As chair of the program, I am very familiar with the challenges for our volunteer soldiers to be inducted into the IDF. Over the past five years, out of a total of 1,000 or more SIU young men and women deployed at over 28 bases across Israel, only about 60 young adults have achieved this milestone. But Daniel did!
JNF-USA’s tagline is “Your Voice in Israel.” While sitting in Roswell, Georgia, I can attest that my voice was heard. Together with JNF-USA and SIU, we made a difference in Israel, in inclusion, and in Daniel Defur’s life.
Alan Wolk (pictured left, in top photo) and his wife, Roni Wolk, live in Roswell, Georgia. Alan is the vice president of the Israel Impact Investment Committee on the national board of directors and the chair of the board of governors for Special in Uniform. Roni is the co-chair for Atlanta Women for Israel, the chair of the LOTEM task force, and a member of the Atlanta board of directors.