Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, begins tonight at sundown. This is a time of renewal and celebration, which The Jerusalem Post's Eli Mandelbaum reports, is an especially meaningful time for IDF soldiers with disabilities:
A tree may be divided into three parts: (a) roots; (b) trunk, branches and leaves; and (c) fruit. Though the roots of a tree are not visible, they serve two vital functions: they support the tree, enabling it to withstand strong winds, and they deliver most of its nourishment. The trunk, branches and leaves constitute the bulk of the tree’s body, reflect its growth, and make the tree attractive to the onlooker — but they are not its ultimate purpose. It is the fruit that benefits others and contains the seeds which bear the species’ promise for posterity.
For the soldiers who are part of the Special in Uniform program, Tu Bishvat has a another meaning: it is a time to receive new inspiration.
Special in Uniform is a very special program now operating in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA). It integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces with the core belief that everyone belongs and has the right to reach his or her full potential. Special in Uniform focuses on the unique talents of each individual participant to help find a job within the IDF that is a perfect fit for their skills. The attention is on the ability, not the disability, of each individual, encouraging independence and integration into society...
“Using the metaphor of a tree, enables our young soldiers with disabilities to speak about their lives in ways that make them stronger,” said Shiri Vardi, SIU program director. It involves our members drawing their own ‘tree of life’ in which they get to speak of their ‘roots,’ their skills and knowledge, their hopes and dreams, as well as the special people in their lives. The soldiers then join their trees into a ‘forest of life’ (Israeli society). In groups, participants discuss some of the ‘storms’ that affect their lives an inclusive or exclusive society and ways that they respond to these storms, protect themselves, and each other.