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Special in Uniform soldier makes his mark during coronavirus pandemic

Although wheelchair-bound, 23-year-old Roy Shifman achieved his dream of joining the IDF. (Credit: Special in Uniform)
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Although wheelchair-bound, 23-year-old Roy Shifman achieved his dream of joining the IDF

By ILANIT CHERNICK

Despite being confined to a wheelchair, 23-year-old Roy Shifman was determined to fulfill his dream of joining the IDF. And fulfill this dream, he did.

Born premature and diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 7 months old, Shifman’s parents were determined that he would achieve his maximum potential. 

As a toddler, they laid him on his stomach in a sandbox so he could play with children his age, feel the sensory pleasure of sand, and yes, like the right of passage for all toddlers, even eat it. He was later mainstreamed into a regular classroom, and as a teenager, he participated in the counselor-training course of Working and Studying Youth with the help of two wheelchairs, a caretaker, and two devoted parents as his cheerleaders.

Towards the end of high school, Shifman spoke frequently about his life-long dream to serve in the IDF and defend his country and nation.  

The Shifman’s contacted General (res.) Ariel Almog of Special in Uniform who facilitated Roy’s acceptance into the program and integrated him successfully into the Air Force Base in Palmachim where he works as a logistical manager in the infirmary where he carries out his duty with passion and resolve.  

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. 

Special in Uniform 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.

Following the outbreak of coronavirus in Israel, soldiers from Special in Uniform were sent home from military bases around the country for their physical protection because many of these soldiers are considered immunocompromised. 

Once the situation in Israel started to stabilize, Shifman, along with the rest of Special in Uniform were recalled to their bases to continue serving their country and defending their nation. 

On their return, they were warmly welcomed back by their army buddies who told them how much they were missed. 

Although sent home for some time during the coronavirus pandemic, since his return to base, Shifman has been focused on making sure his fellow soldiers stay safe and healthy during this period.

Dr Tzlil Goldstein, a medical doctor at the Palmachim Air Base’s infirmary, who works closely with Roy said that over the past weeks “starting around the time that Roy returned to base after being furloughed at the height of the pandemic, we began noticing an erosion of coronavirus discipline on base. 

“People are taking liberties, hanging out too closely, not doing what they should,” Goldstein stressed.

Roy, she said, “has been invaluable in helping us maintain coronavirus discipline in the infirmary – making sure that people keep to a safe social distance and wear masks, which are both vital tools in fighting the spread of infection. 

“Now that people are getting back to routine and paying less attention, Roy has taken the initiative to fulfill this very important role of reminding his fellow soldiers to stay safe,” she pointed out.

Despite his disabilities, 23-year-old Roy Shifman achieved his dream of joining the IDF and making his mark.
(Pictures: Special in Uniform)

When thinking back to her very first day on the base, Goldstein said that Roy warmly introduced himself, and since then, they’ve been friends. 

“Roy is a huge asset to the infirmary,” Goldstein said. “His presence is always felt, and he creates such a positive atmosphere here. Even when I’m inside an examination room with a patient, I can often hear bits and pieces of conversation floating inside as Roy greets the soldiers who come in, asks how they feel, and makes everyone feel like a million dollars.”
For Goldstein, Special in Uniform is an integral part of IDF life for all soldiers who serve.
“I think that when we see soldiers from Special in Uniform on base, in the Air Force and everywhere in the IDF, we internalize that they’re equals,” she explained, emphasizing that “they’re just like us.”

Goldstein stressed that there is no reason to be intimidated by the fact that they’re in a wheelchair. 

“The person is a person, and even more, it’s really a lot of fun working together with them,” she concluded.

Shifman made it clear that he loves his job, the military environment, and he is proud of his contributions to his country.

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