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Blind Special in Uniform volunteer inducted into the IDF as fully-fledged soldier

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“When I was 15, I woke up blind and I was sure my life was over,” Tel Aviv resident Daniel Defour recalled.

By ILANIT CHERNICK

Daniel Defour had always dreamed of joining the IDF. But at age 15, this passionate young man went blind.

“When I was 15, I woke up blind and I was sure my life was over,” Tel Aviv resident Daniel Defour recalled.

This week, Defour was officially inducted into the IDF, achieving what everyone had said was impossible.

Defour was born premature, weighing less than half a kilogram. For the first few months of life, he was in a Neonatal ICU, where he was diagnosed with a crippling disease known as retinopathy of prematurity otherwise known as Terry syndrome.

The disease affects the eyes of premature babies who have had to receive neonatal intensive care and oxygen therapy to facilitate lung development. 

At the age of 13, just after he celebrated his bar mitzvah, Defour started going blind. He underwent seven eye surgeries in hopes of saving his rapidly deteriorating eyesight.

But this was not to be. One morning, two years later, Defour woke up completely blind.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I wanted to scream out of fear; I was sure my life was over.” Defour was left devastated and recalled how he “wanted to bury myself.” 

Despite the pain and devastation of this revelation, there was still a light at the end of the tunnel.

He was determined with every bit of willpower and perseverance to continue living life to the fullest and fulfilling his dreams. 

With the loving support of family and teachers, the young man “discovered that there was still a tomorrow, that there was still meaning to life.”

Defour enrolled in the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind where he was taught to see and read with his other four senses.

“Many times I was tempted to throw in the towel,” he said, adding that he was ready “to give up.” But, he explained, “then I’d remember that I couldn’t give up because I was placed in this world with a goal and purpose that is mine alone, and I was determined to achieve it.”

It was during this time that Defour also realized his dream of serving in the IDF and was set on making it a reality in spite of his blindness.

As a young child, Defour fell in love with cars. As a boy of four, he received his first model car as a gift and slowly but surely he garnered an impressive collection of dozens of model cars from around the world. 

When he turned 17, he wrote a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling hom about his passion for cars.

In the letter, he asked if he could have a five-minute ride with the prime minister in his legendary armored limousine.

On July 15, 2017, Defour received a special surprise. He learned that the Prime Minister had read his letter and had also extended a personal invitation to meet with the 17-year-old at the Knesset. 

The promised 5-minute ride in Netanyahu’s Audi segued into a two-and-half hour long meeting, in the course of which Netanyahu asked this brave young man about his other dreams.

“Mr. Prime Minister,” replied Defour passionately, “My greatest wish of all is to join the IDF and serve my country.” 

This brief comment set the stage for Defour’s dream to come true.

Featured Image: Special in Uniform’s Daniel Defour receives his IDF identity card while being inducted into the army.
Above picture: Reaching his life-long dream, Special in Uniform soldier Daniel Defour is inducted into the army.
(Pictures Credit: Special in Uniform)

Deeply impressed by the Defour’s resolve and commitment, the Prime Minister’s Office contacted Special in Uniform to recommend Daniel Defour into their program. 

Special in Uniform incorporates young people with mild physical and mental disabilities into Israel’s military, offering them training and skills that empower them to integrate long-term into Israeli society and the workforce. 

The program focuses on the ability, not disability, of each individual, and encourages independence, inclusion and full integration into society. One of its main goals is also to break down societal barriers and foster widespread acceptance of social diversity.

Special in Uniform’s two-year volunteer training program culminates with graduating youths receiving their soldier’s IDs and being placed in military bases across Israel using their acquired skills and knowledge to perform important jobs on base.

Despite the fantastic growth of Special in Uniform, the inclusion of a blind young man into their ranks was still unheard of, yet both Daniel and Special in Uniform’s directors were determined to make it work.

Defour joined Special in Uniform two years ago as a volunteer for the army, fulfilling the criteria needed to be inducted into the IDF as a fully-fledged soldier and this past week, his dream officially became a reality.

“I’m very happy to serve my country,” Defour stressed. “I know that I will serve it well. I am so grateful to the IDF and Special in Uniform for opening up the door to me into the vocational world, into the adult world.” 

In a special message, Defour encouraged his fellow young Israelis to follow their dreams and goals no matter what their challenges. 

“want to say to every kid in Israel who doesn’t believe in himself that you can change the IDF. You can change the world! Don’t say, ‘I can’t,’ don’t say, ‘I won’t,’ because that will only lead you far, far away from your dreams. Instead, say ‘I will!’ Strive to overcome your obstacles, because you can do it, and then you surely will!”

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