Celebrating Inclusion in Israel

By Mara Fahl


It’s an around-the-clock job for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who work tirelessly protecting the land and people of Israel. For Los Angeles based mother daughter duo, Karen Sirebrenik and Talia Schauder, one very special IDF unit got the chance to serve up something delicious for themselves.


Special in Uniform is a Jewish National Fund-USA affiliate that integrates Israelis with disabilities into service in the IDF. Through Special in Uniform, young people who were once left out of this Israeli ‘rite-of-passage’ experience are now able to fully participate and contribute to Israeli society.


When Karen first learned about Special in Uniform, she was moved beyond words. As a former preschool teacher experienced in working with children with disabilities and their families, she felt drawn to support the program. So, when she was planning a trip to Israel with her daughter, she was excited to see its impact firsthand. However, like any good visitor, Karen said that she “didn’t want to show up empty-handed.” So, the idea of a pizza party emerged, but what they experienced on that celebratory day was so much more than she expected.


Karen Sirebrenik and Talia Schauder (second and third from right) at the pizza party

Karen Sirebrenik and Talia Schauder (second and third from right) at the pizza party


“If one soldier had a limitation or a struggle in making their pizza, another soldier jumped right in to help,” exclaimed Karen. “It was beautiful to see how they worked together and supported each other. Each soldier was eager to introduce themselves and share their pride in what they do.”


“The American Jewish community cares deeply about recognizing and thanking IDF soldiers for their service,” said Lauren Cohen, Jewish National Fund-USA Major Gifts Director, Greater Los Angeles who facilitated the event. “For the Special in Uniform unit, this was a chance to be thanked, honored, and appreciated just like their peers, but also for their unique contribution, and that means the world.”


Special in Uniform pizza party

Special in Uniform pizza party


Special in Uniform goes beyond bringing people into the IDF, it is a long-term initiative that takes in young people with disabilities and supports their independence throughout their service and beyond. Each participant is given a true, mission-critical job in the IDF that suits their unique skills and strengths and can serve as job training for the future.


Special in Uniform soldiers go on to work in a wide variety of fields, drawing on the skills and the connections they develop during their time in the army. For Karen, that follow-through is what makes this program so unique and vital. “Special in Uniform changes lives; each soldier finds a purpose, and their families gain the peace of mind that their child can be independent and an integral part of society,” said Karen. “Israel can be proud to have this unique program, and we will forever be their cheerleaders.. My hope is that this program will grow, and I will continue to support it however I can.”


For more information about Special in Uniform, visit jnf.org/siu         




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