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January 3, 2017 7:00 am

IDF Welcomes Soldier With Cerebral Palsy

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Omer Lahat (center), who has cerebral palsy and recently joined the Israel Defense Forces, is pictured at a Dec. 29 graduation ceremony for an Israeli Air Force pilots' course. Photo: Special in Uniform.

Omer Lahat (center), who has cerebral palsy and recently joined the Israel Defense Forces, is pictured at a Dec. 29 graduation ceremony for an Israeli Air Force pilots’ course. Photo: Special in Uniform.

JNS.org — The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has welcomed its newest member, a soldier with cerebral palsy, as part of the military’s prioritization of the inclusion of people with disabilities.

Through the “Special in Uniform” program, Omer Lahat was first integrated into the Palmachim Air Base and then, last month, enlisted as a full IDF soldier. The initiative to integrate youths with disabilities into regular units in the military and larger Israeli society is a partnership between the military, the Israeli Ministry of Social Services and the Jewish National Fund.

Lahat developed cerebral palsy when oxygen was cut off from his brain after he was born prematurely, but he never let his physical limitations keep him from pursuing his goals, including graduating from high school with honors.

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He was inspired to serve in the IDF by his father, a former air force pilot and squadron commander, and, to make it happen, Lahat launched a letter-writing campaign, successfully making his case for enlistment to various IDF officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the Dec. 29 graduation ceremony of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots’ course in which Lahat took part, underscored the IDF’s spirit of inclusion.

“A strong nation is one that does not leave its most vulnerable members behind,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is the only nation in the world that has a strong army with the ability to include people with disabilities.”

To date, Special in Uniform has facilitated the voluntary enlistment of about 50 Israeli soldiers with autism and other disabilities. Lahat was the program’s first-ever wheelchair-bound participant.

Watch a video of Lahat’s story below:

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