Last week we celebrated the 69 birthday of the state of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:
“Our story is a story of hope, not just for the Jewish people, but for all of humanity. We persevered through adversity against all odds. Anyone fighting for a just cause, fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds, could draw inspiration from our story,”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said today we marked “the Independence Day of all the Jewish people” that Israelis look to “turn challenges into opportunities,” Rivlin exhorted, “on this day, on our Independence Day, let us all work to be sure that our national home is a home that looks after the weak, and cares for its sons and daughters. This is the duty of our leaders, but it is also the duty of each and every one of us.”
Here is a great story of hope and how to turn challenges into opportunities.
Major Ricki Golan is not your typical IDF officer. Born two months premature, Ricki’s oxygen was cut off from her brain at birth. She developed Cerebral Palsy, a condition that left her physically disabled.
At her parents’ insistence, and driven by a deep desire to integrate into Israeli society, Golan attended high school with non-disabled students and graduated with honors.
Then, like most Israelis with special needs, she received the army’s automatic deferment letter before she turned 18. But she and her family would have none of it. “My parents are people who didn’t give up on me at any point,” she says. “They taught me that I’m capable, and I grew up with that feeling.”
Golan’s father, Brigadier General Nati Golan, was one of the most decorated IDF tank commanders during the Six-Day War. After the Yom Kippur war, he joined the development team for Israel’s famous Merkava tank.
“The values I was educated with were clear,” Ricki says. “We enlist—no matter what. I wasn’t obligated in legal sense, but from an ethical and Zionist standpoint, I certainly was.”
As she was in fact exempt from service and could not formally enlist, Ricki insisted that the army accept her as a volunteer. They did, she excelled and her commanders encouraged her to go to officers’ training. “Today, twenty years later, I’m a commander myself in the Adjutant Corps.”
Her personal journey showed her that serving in the IDF is more than a national duty. It is the gateway to independence, skills and lifelong friendships, the rite of passage for every 18-year-old, no matter their abilities.
In 2017, Major Golan joined the leadership of Special in Uniform, JNF partner program that integrates teens with special needs into the Israel Defense Forces, using their unique strengths to bring exceptional value to them and the army.
“For me, Ricki said, Yom Ha’atzmaut is not only the independence of the State of Israel; it’s also the Independence Day for hundreds of young people with special needs who now serve proudly in the IDF. Israel is a much more inclusive society today, and I celebrate that.”