IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson
After a long period during which mentally disabled soldiers had to volunteer to serve in the Intelligence Corps, they are now to be enlisted just like any other soldiers
Date: 29/03/2011, 7:09 PM Author: Florit Shoihet
Reuven, 27, has been in uniform for more than half a year and volunteers daily in the logistics department of the Intelligence Corps’ training base. But now he is a new recruit.
There is one difference between Reuven and the other soldiers arranging uniforms and vests at the warehouse – Reuven has a moderate mental disability. But make no mistake, this will not prevent him from enlisting in the “thinking people corps.”
Reuven represents a new trend in the Intelligence Corps, which accepts volunteers and even enlists soldiers who have special needs to be full-fledged soldiers. Thus for the first time, 70 families of members of the Ramat Gan and Givatayim branches of the Akim organization (a national association that supports the mentally disabled) were invited for a traditional Purim celebration at the training base. Among the many soldiers, officers and their children, the Akim members fit in naturally, jumping on the inflatable devices, getting adorned with sparkly make up, eating sweet treats and partaking in all the holiday activities. Their ages did not prevent them from having a good time and connecting with the other merrymakers. And their first experience at an army base left its mark on them.
The highlight of the event, according to many of those present, was a performance by an extraordinary duo. Barak Totzar and Ayelet David, two of 14 band members of the “Friendship” club, performed the song “I Believe.” The performance truly moved the audience. “We’re considering possibly incorporating them into the training base’s band,” explains an officer at the Intelligence Corps training base, Cpt. Nadav, who is also Reuven’s commander. “This is another event that symbolizes the connection between the [Akim] organization and the training base.”
The process of conducting activities with people with mental disabilities from Ramat Gan and Givatayim by the Intelligence Corps training base started several months ago. Last Hanukah, several intelligence units from central Israel volunteered at an Akim project, where they packed Hanukah packages with members of rehabilitation centers in the two cities.
In honor of Purim, dozens of soldiers and commanders at the base again joined the two rehabilitation centers. With the members, they prepared packages for the holiday. The members were paid a salary for their work, and aside from the value of interacting with other, they significantly contributed to the preparation of the packages, which were eventually put up for sale.
Reactions were quick to come. “There was an outstanding response, truly heartwarming,” shares the officer and head of the Ramant Gan-Givataim Akim branch, Lt. Col. Gideon Mitshnik. “Some said their connection to the mentally disabled was positively changed and they were thankful for the opportunity to get to know the members.”
The Purim celebration was praised. “The reactions were great, and we felt as though we were part of the family,” he shares with a smile. “Soldiers offered help. Some of the families were invited to the base commander, who welcomed them.”
“I call upon other IDF (Zahal) units to initiate similar activity,” exclaims Lt. Col. Mitshnik. “There are 60 Akim branches all around the country, who would love to cooperate. It’s all a matter of will. One who gives to the community, also receives.”
“A person who cannot accept someone who is different is an emotionally deficient person,” says Cpt. Nadav. Last November, he took into his unit Reuven and another volunteer, who after several examinations had been deemed unfit. “At the beginning he would come to my office, stand quietly, and when I tried approaching him he would leave. It took us some time to develop his self-confidence. Today he comes to me three times a day, answers and speaks.”
Now, the training base is working on officially drafting Reuven to the IDF (Zahal). After approval from the induction center, he is expected to enlist for a year and a half as a volunteer. He will most likely continue in his current position that requires him to act independently and work monotonously. Other mentally disabled soldiers have been drafted into the 8200 intelligence unit.
The voice of Cpt. Nadav takes a paternal hue when he speaks of his soldier. “As a commander, I was concerned about awkward interactions, and indeed there were such, though they are an insignificant footnote in comparison with his success. It is both an educational and ethical triumph,” he says. “Today, Reuven has a Facebook profile, and he chats online with our first sergeant. He learned to speak on the phone and to initiate conversation. From time to time, I catch him playing board games with the other soldiers, who treat him as one of their own.”