Israeli model of inclusion

I would like to share with you a very moving event, at which I was last week at an Air Force base in Israel.  You probably think of the welcoming of the two F-35 stealth fighter jets. But my story happened at a different Air Base in Israel. It was the welcome ceremony of new soldiers of “Special in Uniform”. “Special in Uniform” is a unique program, now operating in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF). It integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and, later on, into Israeli society.

The new soldiers are on the autism spectrum. Yes, they struggled with social situations and get easily distracted. This week they became soldiers and started to serve in a classified air force base, working as part of the base manpower, and defying what many of those around them had thought they could accomplish.

For decades, Israel has exempted people on the autism spectrum from joining the military, which regularly enforces a compulsory duty for most Israeli Jews. But, in recent years the IDF is increasingly enlisting people with special needs, harnessing their special capabilities for certain meticulous tasks and including them in an Israeli “rite” that can boost their independence and open for them future doors for professional employment.

In the morning of the ceremony, the air base commander ordered to stop the air activities for two hours, to make sure that everyone on the base participated. So,  with many attendees, including commanders, soldiers, grateful parents and “Special in Uniform” team members and leaders, the new soldiers were welcomed warmly and proudly.

At the ceremony, the administrative commander of the base shared the following story titled “Are You a Carrot, an Egg or a Coffee Bean”. It was a story about perspective, adversity and how you view the things that are happening in your life.


The story went like this:

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her.  She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up.  She was tired of fighting and struggling.  It seemed, as if when one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen.  She filled three pots with water.  In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last one she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil without saying a word.  After about twenty minutes, she turned off the burners.  She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl.  She pulled the eggs out and placed them in another bowl.  Then she ladled the coffee into a third bowl.  Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” her daughter replied.

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots.  She did, and noted that they were soft.  She then asked her to take an egg and break it.  After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.  Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee.  The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter, then, asked, “What’s the point, mother?”

Her mother explained her that each of these objects had faced the same adversity… boiling water – but, each reacted differently.  The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after being through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however.  After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked the daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Today, said the commander, we are here to choose the right choice in life, to overcome challenges, which face us here, together, by serving our country.

The base commander told the parents and guests how he felt so happy to welcome the new unit of “Special in Uniform” to the base. He said “the main mission of our base is to bring in the best intelligence to the IDF, but, we are also the microcosm of the Israel society. We have soldiers from all backgrounds and today we celebrate and welcome you as part of our family!

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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