PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN addresses the Holocaust Remembrance Day opening ceremony at Yad Vashem on Sunday.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
While some young men and women are assiduously trying to evade army service, others are fighting bureaucratic hurdles in an attempt to be accepted.
They obviously cannot be combat soldiers, but they have a diverse array of talents that are put to use and appreciated.
For these soldiers there is no greater joy than knowing they have made a contribution that is recognized and valued.
The soldiers in question are people with special needs who until a few years ago would have been rejected. Today there are 350 soldiers with special needs serving in 22 army bases across Israel in a unit named “Special in Uniform.”
Some 20 of them came to the President’s Residence on Tuesday to receive citations from President Reuven Rivlin and from Russell Robinson, the CEO of the Jewish National Fund of the US, which supports the project.
Rivlin told the soldiers that their desire to serve is important, especially in view of the fact that there are other people who don’t want to serve. People who really care about Israel should join the army, he said. “You are living proof that no barrier is stronger than willpower.”
The IDF is a great equalizer, he added, because it absorbs all the components of the population, with each soldier contributing in accordance with his or her capabilities.
Rivlin said he was very proud to welcome such dedicated soldiers.
Maj. Mickey Golan, a young officer whose father was decorated for bravery in the Yom Kippur War, was born with a breathing defect that affected her ability to walk. The doctors told her parents that she would never walk. Her father refused to give in and would not allow her to give in. He taught her to be stubborn, and although she is lame, she walks – and she can walk unaided. She said that she is grateful to be allowed to serve her country.
Robinson said that because of its support of special-needs soldiers, the JNF also feels special. “We are proud of you. Thank you for allowing us to enter your lives,” he said.
Earlier in the day, in honor of Israel’s blind day, Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, who happened to be also celebrating her birthday, hosted representatives of various institutions and organizations for the blind and vision impaired.
Officially, there are 24,000 blind and near-blind people in Israel, the Rivlins were told.
One of these people, Soraya Tirosh, did not have far to go to attend the event. She is the veteran telephone operator at the President’s Residence and was selected to read the moving poem “The Kindness of the Blind” by Polish poet and Nobel Prize laureate Wislawa Szymborska. Tirosh, who had received a braille copy only minutes earlier, read with clear diction and with the feeling and sensitivity of a professional actress.
Some of the people present complained to Rivlin that the blind have problems in being recognized as disabled by welfare authorities, because blind people are able to dress themselves and to prepare food for themselves, and part of the criteria for disabilities is to be reliant on others for such tasks.
On the other hand, the blind want to prove that, in the job market, they are no less competent than sighted people – and sometimes even more so.
Some of them brought their beautiful guide dogs, one of which wolfed down the contents of a coffee table full of chocolates and nut-filled dates and then rollicked on the carpet, much to the delight of Nechama Rivlin.