Each year, 16-year-old Israelis wait anxiously to receive their first notice (“Tzav Rishon”) letting them know they are considered candidates for service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). However, for nearly 13% of Israeli citizens who have a disability, this excitement is quickly replaced with disappointment when, instead of continuing the process toward recruitment, they receive an exemption from serving.

That is where Special in Uniform comes into the picture. Believing that everyone is equal and deserves a chance to reach their full potential, the Jewish National Fund-USA-backed program integrates young adults with disabilities and special needs into the IDF, in turn providing them with valuable skills that help them enter the workforce following their service.

The project first started in 2014 when executive director at Special in Uniform, Lt. Col. (Res.) Tiran Attia, and chairman of Special in Uniform, Col. Ariel Almog, sought to incorporate 45 people with disabilities into the IDF. The program now has over 500 soldiers with disabilities and special needs serving in 38 bases in the Negev and Galilee, particularly in the Air Force and Home Front Command, with 250 hopefuls on the program’s waiting list.

“Just consider what it’s like for a 16-year-old with disabilities to get exempt from service and what that does to their confidence level. We believe the best thing is to incorporate them into the IDF, where they will be able to serve according to their personal abilities,” said Attia. “The IDF is very happy with the program, and we are constantly receiving requests from commanders who want to partake in the program as well. Most importantly, we’re changing people’s lives.”


On Wednesday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m., in recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, Attia will virtually join JNF-USA live from Israel to take community members from Boston and New England behind the scenes of this revolutionary program. (Register here.)

“Special in Uniform makes young individuals with disabilities feel like they belong. They feel the pride of serving their country alongside their able-bodied peers and are recognized for their capabilities, rather than their limitations,” said Rhonda Forman, a member of JNF-USA’s Boston Board of Directors. “In addition, Special in Uniform helps these soldiers with special needs integrate into the workforce and Israeli society in meaningful ways following their service. Seeing them on equal footing with their peers is incredibly inspiring.”

As part of JNF-USA’s focus on improving the quality of life in Israel for all its citizens, the organization is ensuring that no member of Israeli society is left behind. In addition to Special in Uniform, JNF-USA partners with three other affiliates to provide cutting-edge rehabilitative services, special education and medical care for people with special needs, and makes Israel’s nature trails and recreational facilities inclusive for visitors of all ability levels.

In recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, all donations will be matched up to $1 million through Feb. 28 thanks to a generous anonymous donor from Arizona. Click here to donate.

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