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A special Israeli firefighter story, a story of a dream come true.

How an Ethiopian boy with a disability grew up to be an IDF firefighter

The extreme weather conditions of the past six days led to raging wildfires, exacerbated by dry winds which broke out in different regions across Israel. In a number of cases the fires were caused by arson. Fire crews in Israel including the army firefighters worked around the clock to contain and extinguish a series of massive bush fires. We salute these heroes and pray for their safety.

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I always wondered why most firefighters decide to become firefighters. Maybe at some point in their lives, young boys and girls want to become firefighters. The thrill of the red lights, the sound of the sirens, and the ‚hero factor’, all play into their aspiration. Some of us had a childhood encounter with firefighters that opened our eyes to the possibility of being a real-life superhero. In fact, I think, that it may play a major role in their first few years of employment. Deep down, firefighters are born with a desire to serve the community.

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I would like to share with you a Special Firefighter Story, a story of a dream come true. It is about Moshe, a young man with an intellectual disability. He was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Israel as young boy. Moshe had always wanted to become a firefighter. He dreamed of being a firefighter. As a child, he had waved to fire trucks when they drove by. When his sister Hadas enlisted in the army, Moshe decided that despite everything, he wanted to enlist, too, in order to follow in his sister’s footsteps. His mother and sister gently attempted to dissuade him, so he wouldn’t get disappointed by a possible rejection. But Moshe was determined, and he said, “I want to serve in the army. I want to serve my country!” But, when Moshe first approached an officer in the IDF enlistment office at the age of 18, he was immediately told that his disability would prevent him from serving.  Moshe was devastated and felt depressed, as if he was useless, worthless. Eventually he moved into a high risk street life and it was difficult for social workers and related professionals to engage him.

One day we got a call from Moshe’s social worker, to try to take him to the Special in Uniform program. Special in Uniform is a very unique  program, now operating in partnership with Jewish National Fund (JNF) integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and, in turn, into Israeli society. Moshe was very happy for the opportunity to enlist as a volunteer. After a short process of evaluation and assessment by our professional team, we decided to include Moshe in the program and he began a three-months course of life skills and occupational skills training.

On the pre-induction training program course, the soldiers are integrated into a variety of jobs as a part of the military manpower; Moshe asked to be part of the army’s fire crews, and is now serving in the IDF, and, guess what his job is? He is a firefighter on an Air Force base!

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Thinking about Moshe reminds me of the story about an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore, after a big storm had passed, and he found the beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Far away, in the distance, the old man noticed a little boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused here and then. As he came closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and would throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer and closer, and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the young boy replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

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The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

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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