Embracing Diversity: Berets of Honor for Soldiers with Disabilities

In a poignant display of inclusivity and unity, eleven determined young men and women from Ashkelon’s Moriah School recently donned their berets, marking their official induction as soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Each of these new soldiers has overcome a unique set of challenges, ranging from Down Syndrome to autism, and is now part of an innovative IDF initiative known as Special in Uniform.

Special in Uniform is a groundbreaking program launched by the IDF and the Jewish National Fund-USA. The program is designed to integrate young individuals with mild physical and cognitive disabilities into the Israeli military, providing them with invaluable training and skill development opportunities that prepare them for integration into Israeli society and the workforce.

The tradition of the IDF “Beret March” – a 30 km hike followed by a ceremony where new soldiers receive their berets – symbolizes the end of basic training. For our Special In Uniform soldiers, this rigorous tradition was tailored to a one km march to the Zikim army base near Ashkelon, where they proudly received the orange berets of the Homefront Command.

19-year-old Snir Jamil, who has been part of the program for nearly three years, shared his transformative journey. “Volunteering with the IDF has changed my life and the lives of my friends. Each of us is a warrior, harnessing our unique skills and talents to contribute to our country. This journey has taught us the power of giving and receiving, and how the IDF allows us to reach our full potential and believe in ourselves.”

The celebratory march was a sight to behold, with family, friends, and fellow soldiers from the Homefront Command joining in. Special In Uniform has nearly 1,000 soldiers from all over Israel serving 45 bases across all branches of the IDF.

Lt.-Col. (res.) Kobi Malcha, one of Special In Uniform’s directors, likens the program to a “class outside of school”. He explains that the program provides a real-life setting where participants interact with regular soldiers and commanders, and take up tasks that make them feel part of the broader community. The pride they feel when wearing their uniforms is tangible, and their growth in this process is remarkable.

The program is not limited to school hours; it continues for students aged 17-21, who are taken to the army base once or twice a week. They salute the flag, eat breakfast, and begin their work. Tasks might include assisting in military logistics, data entry, or other office work. They learn valuable skills such as teamwork and problem-solving. Some of them even continue in the army after finishing school as formal soldiers, enjoying pay and other benefits.

The beauty of Special In Uniform lies not only in its inclusivity but also in its diversity. It welcomes participants from all walks of life, including Bedouins, Druze, and Arabs.

Snir’s father, Itamar Jamil, expressed his pride, “This organization gives individuals like Snir the chance to not just feel equal, but to be equal. It invites every individual, irrespective of ability or disability, to maximize their potential and contribute to our nation.”

This inspiring narrative is a testament to Israel’s commitment to embracing diversity and fostering unity. It reflects the Israeli ethos of inclusion and equal opportunity for all, upholding the values that make Israel unique. It showcases how Israel is not just a land of innovation and history but also a beacon of human spirit and resilience. In the face of adversities, the State of Israel stands strong and united, ensuring no one is left behind.