Hearing the New Sound of Israel

Besides for the national anthem, there is a handful of songs that will bring any Israeli audience to its feet, send shivers down its spines, make its hearts beat just a little bit faster. Songs like Shir LaShalom and Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. Songs that personify the attitudes, experiences and hopes of our people.

Songs like Darkenu.

With lyrics by the great composer Yankele Rotblit, “Lo kala darkenu,” (It’s not easy, our path is not easy!) is a stirring ode to the determination that defines our country’s spirit; the resilience built into our soul.

I did not think this song could be any more meaningful, until last Thursday, when I sat in the garden of President Rivlin’s residence listening to legend Danni Bassan sing the chorus along with four soldiers of Special in Uniform.

It is not easy, our way is not easy,

And your eyes are sometimes so sad—

The occasion was an exclusive ceremony at which 12 exceptional people and programs received the prestigious 2017 Presidential Award for Volunteerism. Special in Uniform was honored, and our founder Lt. Col. Ariel Almog accepted the award.

Special in Uniform is the trailblazing program that integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and into Israeli society.

This concept is relatively new to Israel, and completely unheard of anywhere else. And for good reason: army service in Israel is much more than a duty. It is a gateway to social integration. A great equalizer. A shared experience that few teens can imagine living without.

Knowing this, Lt. Col. Almog was saddened to meet so many teens with physical and mental disabilities who were simply unable to serve. While their peers received enlisting papers, they received automatic deferments, often leading to deep dejection and hurt.

Special in Uniform was founded to help individual teens realize their dreams. In the process, the organization has—in the words of President Rivlin—helped “change the fabric of society to be more caring and inclusive.”

There was a storm, and it has passed,
Your face is as calm as the sea

As Danni Bassan croons the prophetic words, I can feel the significance in my bones. To my right and left, parents shake gently with tears of gratitude and joy.

Put your head on my shoulder,
place your hand in my hand

Even Rotblit could not predict the new layer of emotion that would fill such a gathering fifty years after his masterpiece was written. It was a magnificent soundtrack over which to be encouraged by an understanding president who wants every Israeli to feel part of society.

In partnership with JNF, Special in Uniform is making the path to army service—and by extension, skill-building, job-finding and social integration—that much easier.

No, it’s not easy, the path is not easy. But sitting, eyes closed, in that presidential garden, I heard the sound of a bright future. The classic sound of Israel working together to find solutions.

About the Author
Major (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 Major Commander for army volunteers.
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