May 30, 2024
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The IDF’s Newest Recruit: ‘At the Age of 15, I Woke Up Blind, and I Was Sure My Life Was Over’

The amazing story of Daniel Defour, who went blind at the age of 15. This young man’s greatest dream was to join the IDF, and following an appeal to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he began his official volunteer stint in the army. On Thursday, July 23, Defour, was officially inducted into the Israel Defense Forces. A vision fulfilled.

(Courtesy of Special in Uniform) It’s certainly not every day that one meets a blind soldier; indeed there may be no historical precedent for it at all, since visual impairment, as practically any physical disability, has long been grounds for military exemption. Yet this week, one blind young man from Tel Aviv named Daniel Defour achieved what everyone said was impossible when he received his official Soldier’s ID and became a full-fledged soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.

Born prematurely 21 years ago and weighing barely one pound, Defour was a miracle baby. He spent the first few months of his life in the NICU, where he was diagnosed with the dreaded retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), commonly known as Terry syndrome, a disease of the eye that affects premature babies who receive neonatal intensive care and oxygen therapy to facilitate lung development.

At the age of 13, exactly one week after his bar mitzvah, the disease returned with a vengeance. Defour underwent seven eye surgeries in a desperate attempt to rescue his rapidly failing eyesight, yet two years later, his world, quite literally, turned black when he awoke one morning completely blind.

“I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to scream from fear; I was sure my life was over,” said Defour. “I was devastated, and I wanted to bury myself.” Yet in the midst of the murky darkness, a small beam of light and hope still shone in his heart. He 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 the towel in, to give up, but 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,” he said.

In July 2017, Defour learned that the Prime Minister had read a letter he had sent to him and extended his personal invitation for Defour to meet him at the Knesset. During a two-and-half hour long meeting, Mr. Netanyahu asked the courageous 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.” Little did he imagine that this brief comment would be the catalyst to set his dream into motion…

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

A revolutionary program of the Israel Defense Forces in conjunction with Lend-A-Hand to A Special Child and JNF-USA, 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.

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

Defour joined Special in Uniform as a volunteer for the army, maintaining this status for two years. On Thursday, July 23, he realized his goal as he was inducted as a full-fledged soldier into the IDF.

“I’m very happy to serve my country and I know that I will serve it well,” he said. “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.”

He adds a special message to others, imparting a message of hope and perseverance that has been his motto and guiding light since the day he permanently lost his eyesight:

“I 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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