Feb 19, 2021 By Amy Bielory Category: Special Needs,
Meeting Israeli Soldiers With Special Needs Strikes Powerful Personal Chord
I was privileged to participate in a Jewish National Fund-USA mission to Israel in May of 2019. What I didn’t know before this trip is how much it would impact me or change my life. When I received the itinerary, I noticed the first day we would be visiting a JNF project at the Palmachim Air Base called Special in Uniform. I had never heard of this innovative program before but was immediately intrigued. I discovered during our visit that Special in Uniform integrates young people with disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces and helps prepare them for careers following army service.
This hit home. My brother Barry, who had special needs, unfortunately passed away unexpectedly in July of 2018. Visiting the base and having the opportunity to hear the participants speak, I felt Barry’s presence. Their stories were so similar to my brother’s -- wanting to give back, wanting to use their skills in their own unique way, wanting to make new lifelong friends, and most importantly, wanting to belong.
Many people don’t realize the importance of the IDF to Israeli society, not just from a security standpoint, but also socially. Special in Uniform allows these special needs individuals to not only serve their country with dignity but to integrate into the rest of Israeli society in a whole new way. While Special in Uniform participants use their unique skills to help give back in ways such as counting batteries or packing bags and COVID testing kits, they also meet others like themselves and interact with soldiers in other units during meals and on the base, which fosters long-lasting friendships.
After my trip ended, I couldn't stop thinking about my experience with JNF and Special in Uniform. It was the first day of our trip, and it set the tone for the entire mission. It truly would not have been the same without meeting my amazing special needs brothers and sisters who are currently volunteering and serving in the army.
I decided I needed to do something in memory of my brother’s first yahrzeit, and what better way than giving back to JNF in his name? I started fundraising with a goal of $1,800. I reached that goal in 24 hours. So, I upped my goal to $3,600, but I reached that goal in 48 hours. Then I upped it again to $5,000. After reaching $5,000 within 72 hours of launching the campaign, I dreamed of raising $10,000 to fund an independent living training program in Barry’s name but I never thought I would come close. Since July of 2019, I have raised over $20,000.
Amy (pictured on the left in the family photo above) is a licensed mental health counselor in NYC but is a Jersey girl at heart. She loves spending time at the shore, finding new recipes to make, and spending time with her friends and family.