(August 5, 2020, Jerusalem, JNS Wire) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived Tuesday at Home Front Command Headquarters for a discussion with Defense Minister Benny Gantz regarding the IDF’s role in the nationwide battle against coronavirus. During his visit, Netanyahu surprised Daniel Defur, a blind soldier who recently achieved his lifelong dream when he was drafted two weeks ago into full military service.
Born prematurely and weighing barely one pound, Daniel Defour was a miracle baby. He spent the first months of his life in the NICU, where he was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), commonly known as Terry syndrome, a disease of the eye that affects premature babies who receive neonatal intensive care and oxygen therapy to facilitate lung development. In the course of his early adolescence, Daniel underwent 7 eye surgeries in desperate attempt to rescue his rapidly failing eyesight, yet at the age of 15, his world, quite literally, turned black when he awoke one morning completely blind.
Despite his physical disability, Defur nursed a dream of enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces when he turned 18, yet these hopes were brutally dashed when he received an automatic exemption due to his disability. The young man refused to relent and enlisted the help of none other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, deeply impressed by the young man’s resolve and commitment, contacted Special in Uniform to recommend Defur into their program.
A revolutionary program of the Israel Defense Forces in conjunction with JNF-USA, Special in Uniform incorporates young people with mild physical and mental disabilities into Israel’s military, offering them training and skills that empower them to integrate long-term into Israeli society and the workforce. The program accentuates the unique talents of each participant and places him or her into an appropriate setting within the IDF. Breaking down societal barriers and fostering widespread acceptance of social diversity, Special in Uniform focuses on the ability, not disability, of each individual, and encourages independence, inclusion and full integration into society.
Special in Uniform’s two-year volunteer training program culminates with graduating youths receiving their soldier’s IDs and being placed in military bases across Israel where they cull from the knowledge and skills that they acquired to perform important jobs on base, forget their disabilities and focus instead on their versatile abilities and talents. At Special in Uniform, kids with low self-worth mature into independent, confident young men and women who believe in themselves and their abilities. Throughout their years of military service, they acquire important social and life skills that empower them to meld seamlessly into society and, later, the workforce.
Despite the fantastic growth of Special in Uniform, the inclusion of a blind young man into their ranks was still unheard of, yet both Daniel and Special in Uniform’s directors were determined to make it work.
Daniel joined Special in Uniform as a volunteer for the army, maintaining this status for two years. This past week, on Thursday, July 23, 2020, he realized his goal when he was officially inducted into the IDF.
“I’m so happy to serve my country,” Daniel exclaimed emotionally.
During his visit to Home Front Command Headquarters today, Netanyahu, who was delighted to hear of Defur’s achievement, paid the fresh soldier a surprise visit to congratulate Daniel and his friends and salute them for their dedication and service. “You are inspiration to so many young people, teaching them to never to give up on their dreams,” said the Prime Minister.
Touched by yet another success story, Alan Wolk, Chair of Special in Uniform and Vice President of JNF-USA’s National Board, expresses: “Jewish National Fund-USA supports Special in Uniform because we are enabling people with different abilities to serve their country with distinction, empowering them with the tools, confidence and life skills to be included as fully-contributing members of society. Jewish National Fund-USA and our donors’ support of this revolutionary program fully aligns with our organization’s strategic vision and eternal commitment to strengthening the Land and people of Israel while promoting inclusion.”
In Israel, the vast majority of high school graduates serve in the IDF, or as an alternative, perform National Service. Young people with disabilities like Israel aren’t normally eligible to serve, which causes them to lose out on a deeply momentous, meaningful experience. Special in Uniform fills this important gap.
Since JNF has partnered with the Special in Uniform program, thousands of young citizens with physical and mental disabilities have been able to contribute their part to Israel’s military. Over the years, the program has increased by one thousand percent, expanding from 50 to 500 participants in 35 army bases around the country, with a long waiting list. Its passionate leaders are ambitiously planning to ramp up enrollment to 1,000 participants by 2023.