Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month

Golda Meir was a teacher, a kibbutznik and a politician who became the 4th Prime Minister of Israel. Israel’s first and the world’s third woman to hold such an office, she was described as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics. One of Golda’s famous quotes was: “The deserts of the Middle East are in need of water, not bombers”. If Golda Meir was alive today, she would be very proud to know, how Israel made the desert bloom, and has crafted the most incredible innovations in water technology and that the world looks at Israel for exports and expertise.

This month we observe the Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. JDAIM is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them.

If Golda Meir was alive today, she would be proud to know that the world is turning to Israel not only for water and agriculture technology, and now also for advice on inclusion of disabled.  Israel provides affordable and innovative solutions to everyday needs for people with disabilities.

Just reasently, Google granted $700,000 to the Israeli-based Tikkun Olam Makers, an initiative aimed at producing technology to help people with disabilities.

Golda Meir also loved someone with a disability. Most people in Israel didn’t know that Golda had a granddaughter with the Down syndrome. Golda never spoke about it in public. At that time people with disabilities were largely ‚invisible and unaccounted for by the government, and society managed to keep people who were different out of sight by building institutions for them.

Today, more than forty years later, we are not perfect yet, but we do our very best every day. Recently, a delegation of USA lawmakers arrived in Israel and came to visit the  Special in Uniform program to learn how Israel includes young people with disabilities in the Army. In Israel the vast majority of typical high school graduates serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). But, thousands of young people with cerebral palsy, autism, and intellectual disabilities were exempted from service. These individuals had been turned away from proudly serving their country until

Special in Uniform- opened the door for them. Now operating in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Special in Uniform  is a unique program which integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces and, later on, into Israeli society.

I feel lucky every day by seeing the soldiers of Special in Uniform and the progress they have made. We are coming with positive approaches and say: “You can do it, of course, you can; You  just don’t know how to do it. We are here to help you. You are one of a kind. Everyone responds more favorably when he/she feels that he/she belongs.

Like the famous Star Fish Story:  about a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he beginning his work.

One day, as he was walking along the seashore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the ground, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still, and called out ‘Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing? ‘ The young man paused, looked up, and replied: ‘Throwing starfishes into the ocean.’

‘I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfishes into the ocean?’ asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, ‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.’

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, ‘But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfishes all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!’

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, ‘It made a difference for that one.’

So, in honor of the Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month may I encourage you to take the time to do something that will make a difference to someone else’s life. And it doesn’t have to be much and they don’t need to know. Just take a moment, do something special … The universe will know and that’s enough.

About the Author
Lt. Col. (Res.) Tiran Attia is the director of Special in Uniform, a very unique program, operating in partnership with Jewish National Fund (JNF) to integrate young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and, in turn, into Israeli society. Tiran was born in Israel in 1967. During a distinguished 28 year career in the IDF, he was IDF tank commander, commander of the IDF's Technology and logistics forces training program for army logistics cadets. His last position in the IDF was as a Commander of the Sar-El program for army volunteers.
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