Special in Uniform participants and volunteers plant a tree in honor of Tu Bishvat .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A tree may be divided into three parts: roots; trunk, branches and leaves; and fruit.
Though the roots of a tree are not visible, they serve two vital functions by supporting the tree and enabling it to withstand strong winds, as well as delivering most of its nourishment.
Although the trunk, branches and leaves constitute the bulk of the tree’s body, reflect its growth and make the tree attractive to the onlooker, they are not the ultimate purpose.
It is the fruit that benefits others and contains the seeds that bear the species’ promise of posterity.
For the soldiers who are part of the Special in Uniform program, Tu Bishvat has a another meaning: it is a time to receive new inspiration.
Special in Uniform is a unique program operating in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) that integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces with the core belief that everyone belongs and has the right to reach his or her full potential.
Special in Uniform focuses on the unique talents of each individual participant to help find a job within the IDF that is a perfect fit for their skills.
The attention is on the ability, not the disability, encouraging independence and integration into society.
Recently, participants planted trees with members of Chesed Mission, led by Rabbi Naftali Besser of the Yeshiva of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn.
“Using the metaphor of a tree, enables our young soldiers with disabilities to speak about their lives in ways that make them stronger,” said Shiri Vardi, SIU program director. It involves our members drawing their own ‘tree of life’ in which they get to speak of their ‘roots,’ their skills and knowledge, their hopes and dreams, as well as the special people in their lives. The soldiers then join their trees into a ‘forest of life’ [Israeli society]. In groups, participants discuss some of the ‘storms’ that affect their lives, an inclusive or exclusive society and ways they respond to these storms and protect themselves and each other.
Special in Uniform has doubled in size over the past year, expanding its presence to 300 soldiers on 15 IDF bases across Israel. The big vision is to reach 1,000 enrolled participants in the next four years.