8 months ago


INCLUSION Focusing on

INCLUSION Focusing on the Ability, not the Disability Ilai (right) poses with his brother Adam during his IDF swearing-in ceremony last year. (Courtesy) By NOA AMOUYAL When a mother in Israel gives birth to two sons close together, the assumption is that she will have two sons in uniform in their teen years. It’s double the anxiety but also double the naches (pride). But when Hagit Ron-Rabinovich’s eldest son, Ilai, was diagnosed as autistic at two years old, she was resigned to having a home with only one soldier – one fighter for Israel – one independent son who would go on to achieve his dreams. Ilai’s dreams and hopes for the future, she thought, were dashed the moment he was diagnosed. So when Ron-Rabinovich attended Ilai’s swearing-in ceremony into the Israel Defense Forces last year, a long-abandoned familial dream was realized. “During his swearing-in ceremony, my mother reminded me, ‘Remember all those nights you spent crying that you wouldn’t have two boys in uniform? Well, it looks like that fear didn’t end up coming true,’” she recalls. Ilai now serves in the IDF’s Homefront Command thanks to Jewish National Fund’s (JNF-USA) Special in Uniform project, a signature program designed to integrate Israeli youth with disabilities – mental and physical – into the IDF to serve alongside their fellow countrymen and women. For many Israelis, serving in the army is a critical rite of passage. “Ilai’s lack of communication goes to the very core of what it means to communicate as humans. 10

It’s difficult to understand what he needs; if he’s satisfied, if he’s happy. For years, we had no idea,” Ron-Rabinovich said. So when Ilai was given an opportunity to speak for the first time – through using a device that allows him to type into an iPad – he made it clear that he did not want the opportunity to serve to pass him by. “Want to enlist,” is what he typed repeatedly, conveying his desire to follow in the footsteps of his younger brother, Adam, and don a uniform as well. “Israel is the only country that integrates people with disabilities into the army.” Yossi Kahana JNF Task Force on Disabilities Ron-Rabinovich credits JNF with helping cut through the red tape so Ilai’s wish could come true. At the IDF, he spends his days organizing supplies within his unit twice a week and every day spent on the base is a happy one. It is one of the few times he feels a sense of purpose, something that many with special needs desire but few are given the opportunity to have. “Whenever you mention autism it resonates with so many,” Yossi Kahana, director of Jewish National Fund’s Task Force on Disabilities, said. “Israel is the only country that integrates people with disabilities into the army. We should do more to realize their potential and let everyone be part of society. They don’t need us to help them out, they need us to help them in.” “I’m so excited to be here today,” Ron-Rabinovich told the Israeli press at the time of the ceremony last December. “For Ilai, this represents the climax of a long and difficult journey that allows him to integrate positively into Israeli society. Israel serves as a model par excellence for countries around the world in its consideration and care for its disabled, making room and welcoming them even into its armed forces, which is the spearhead of Israeli society.” ■ Inclusion for All Israelis Like all of JNF’s efforts for the land and people of Israel, its work for those with disabilities and special needs is not limited to a month, but every day. Over the last year, JNF and its partners have made great strides in improving the quality of life for those with disabilities and special needs, providing services for 45,000 people including: • ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran: A state-of-the-art rehabilitative village in the Negev, ALEH Negev offers unparalleled care for people with severe disabilities, empowering residents and outpatients to help them reach their potential for communication and development. In 2017, 7,000 individual outpatient treatments were handled at ALEH Negev and 140 permanent residents were welcomed at its rehabilitative village. • LOTEM – Making Nature Accessible: LOTEM brings people with special needs closer to nature through field trips, accessible hikes in JNF’s first inclusive park, and creative workshops in nature that have been adapted to the needs of participants and for people of all ages. Last year, LOTEM hosted over one million visitors at JNF’s inclusive trail in Nahal Hashofet. • Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center at Kibbutz Grofit: RMTRC provides weekly horseback riding therapy to some 200 children and adults with physical and mental disabilities, as well as emotional and behavioral issues in Israel’s Arava region. In 2017, Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center provided 10,000 therapy sessions and 9,200 sessions for 160 children through JNF scholarships. • Special in Uniform: An innovative and unique program, Special in Uniform integrates youth with disabilities into the IDF and assists in preparing them for careers following army the completion of their service. Creating a pathway for 360 participants to join Special in Uniform and expanding the program’s presence to 22 IDF bases – and watching 20 soldiers graduate and successfully integrate into the workforce and Israeli society. • Inclusive parks and forests: Throughout Israel, JNF has provided the means for all, regardless of physical limitation, to traverse parks and woodlands on trails and pathways that are universally accessible. For more information, please contact Yossi Kahana, director of the JNF Task Force on Disabilities at (212-879-9305 x240) APRIL 2018 11

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