(JNS.org) Omer Lahat, who has cerebral palsy, recently joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), becoming the latest example of the Israeli military’s prioritization of the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Oxygen was cut off from Lahat’s brain when he was born two months early, leading to his development of cerebral palsy. But physical limitations did not hold him back from attending high school and graduating with honors, after which point he pursued his dream to serve in the IDF through the “Special in Uniform” program—a partnership between the IDF, the Israeli Ministry of Social Services and the Jewish National Fund that works to integrate youths with disabilities into regular units in the military and ultimately into Israeli society. Lahat was the program’s first-ever wheelchair-bound participant.
After first integrating into the Palmachim Air Base, Lahat enlisted as a full IDF soldier in late December following a Special in Uniform letter-writing campaign that made the case for his military service to various IDF officials. To date, Special in Uniform has facilitated the voluntary enlistment of about 50 Israeli soldiers with autism and other disabilities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at a Dec. 29 graduation ceremony for an Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots’ course, underscored the IDF’s spirit of inclusion.
“A strong nation is one that does not leave its most vulnerable members behind,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is the only nation in the world that has a strong army with the ability to include people with disabilities.”
Lahat drew his inspiration to serve in the military from his father, a former air force pilot and squadron commander. IDF service “is something that was very important in our family,” he said.