Giants in uniform

Among what seems to be the 24/7 streaming of bad news coming out of Europe, Israeli news is working hard to make sure that there are always reports that will bring a smile to people’s faces and a little light relief. And what serve that purpose better than Giants in Uniform. 

Giants in Uniform was established a decade ago with the aim of integrating young people with disabilities into the IDF. The program annually offers equal opportunities to about 700 young people in 60 army bases. The able-bodied soldiers work side by side with the special-needs solders. Thus the mighty Israeli, becomes for them a sheltered home where they are accepted for who they are, and as equals. The ultimate goal is to integrate them into civilian employment so that they can live as independent a life as possible.  Giants in Uniform is so successful that in 2017, it even won the “President’s Volunteer Award.”

The program has proven that integration into the IDF turns insecure young people into confident, self-sufficient youth who look forward to a full integration into society after their army service. It is none other than the IDF who improves their social abilities, imparts basic life skills, and instills in them a belief in themselves. 

Being part of Giants in Uniform is a win-win for all. By working alongside these special-needs youth, able-bodied soldiers also learn to accept people who have different struggles. The result is that the exceptional program has a personal and touching impact on everyone. It also creates a high possibility that soldiers, whether they are special needs or not, may well end up working together even after they leave the army.

There are enormous benefits for parents as well. Many parents who struggled for years with all that is required to raise a special needs child, admitted that they never believed that full integration or even happiness would have been possible for their children. They certainly never dreamed to see their children in uniform!

An integral part of the Israeli Army are the music bands. Most now-famous Israeli musicians started out with these bands. Songs recorded by this unit have been to be the most popular chart-topping songs throughout the years. 

Giants in Uniform have also formed their own army band, touring army bases and singing Israel’s greatest hits. There is something uniquely contagious about these young people. Its not just the goal of the project but literally the getting there too. The performances are superb, but no one can be failed to be moved watching them stuff their gear into the bus on their way for a performance, and singing all the way to the event on the bus with huge smiles on their faces. 

But the most moving event of all, is the ceremony at the end of their service where they receive their berets and each give a speech. There is not a dry eye in the house, as each express their deep gratitude for being able to serve in the program, specifying how it has helped them, given them joy and purpose and built their self-confidence. Like any good Israeli ceremony, these ones also conclude with how proud the candidates are to serve their country. The closing speeches are appropriately followed by a rousing singing of The Tikvah, where Hope really is heard from the roof tops.