Yes, he can!

Uri Choukroun proves that when you put your mind to something, nothing can hold you back

No Limits!521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
No Limits!521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Twenty-three-year-old Uri Choukroun from Ashdod is an alumnus of the No Limits Taglit Birthright Israel program. He took a special part in two trips, the first in 2010 and then again in 2011, both times as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.
Being handicapped from birth with cerebral palsy – the motor part of his brain did not receive enough oxygen while he was being delivered – has not stopped Choukroun from pursing his dreams and goals. Though life in a wheelchair is not easy and comes with many stigmas and difficulties, with the love and support of his family and those around him, he was able to push forward and pursue his goals.
When Choukroun began to go to school, his parents placed him in a special needs program.
After he finished second grade, they were given the option of enrolling him in a regular school. Though he had to repeat the second grade, Choukroun graduated from high school and completed his matriculation with more than the 30 units required. “Without my warm family and their support I would never have been able to get to where I am,” he explains.
THROUGHOUT THE next few years, Choukroun watched as his friends were drafted into the army and yearned for a chance to do the same. It took two years for the IDF to accept him as a volunteer soldier. “My father gave up after a year, but I didn’t want to give up,” he says. “I kept pushing. My friends told me to give up and go study but I didn’t want to back down. I wanted to join the army like everyone else.”
Finally, at the age of 20, Choukroun was approved as a volunteer in the IDF. Volunteers are asked to serve for a year and a half, but he extended his service twice and served in the Israel Navy for a total of two and a half years at an army base in his hometown.
There he designed and created power point presentations and any other documents his commanders required. Choukroun took his job very seriously and was very proud to have the opportunity to serve his country.
“My biggest contribution to the base was bringing awareness to special needs and handicapped individuals to the general population of Israel,” he says.
In 2010, Choukroun was given the opportunity to join a group of handicapped individuals from the USA on a Taglit Birthright Israel trip. There are not many handicapped groups that come on tours to Israel, so this opportunity was not a given. Yet, the existence of such a group trip gives much hope to these participants as they glide through the country like any other Taglit Birthright Israel group. Choukroun’s determination and the special bond between all the disabled soldiers proved an inspiration to many of the visitors, some of whom see their disabilities as a major disadvantage.
For example, one of the American participants shared a story of his experience of wanting to join the US military. He gave up when he was denied because of his disability.
“We never had a Mifgash [“Encounter” with Israeli peers] participant so proud of their contribution to Israel,” says Nicole Greenspan of Amazing Israel tours.
Choukroun’s outgoing and ambitious attitude led him back to Birthright as an intern/volunteer for Amazing Israel the following year. “He wanted to give back to Birthright. That’s just the type of guy he is,” says Greenspan.
His assignment was to research handicapped- accessible sites across Israel for the No Limits program offered to UK and North American groups. Greenspan continues to praise Choukroun, saying that “he made a huge impact on our participants and continues to pay it forward, helping future trips with the work that he is doing.”
Currently, Choukroun is looking into computer and technology programs at colleges in the Ashdod area in the hope that he will be able to study animation video and/or video editing, subjects he feels very passionate about.
“I taught myself Japanese by watching Japanese animation cartoons and movies with English subtitles,” he says. “I can understand entire conversations and I can also read and write.”
Additionally, for the past five years, Choukroun has been a part of the non-profit organization The House of Wheels, which recently decided to take one or two participant from each of its five locations across Israel and train them to become counselors.
Though this is an exceptional gift to Choukroun, it is an unpaid position. Since his discharge from the IDF, he has had a hard time finding work because there are not many positions available for handicapped individuals. ■