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Eli Serves

In Israel, parents take a photo on the day that a son or daughter goes off to the military. But Hagit Rabinovich gave up on that dream long ago.

“Through the years, I set this picture free,” Rabinovich said. “And I told myself, ok, this is not my story.”

Rabinovich’s oldest son, Eli, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and is non-verbal.

While Rabinovich knew that she would get that experience with her three younger children, she also knew that she would never be able to capture that photo of Eli in his uniform.

Hagit Rabinovich looks at a photo of her sons Eli and Adam at Eli’s beret ceremony. ~ Photo by Giana Han

Even so, Rabinovich was not prepared for the letter, when it finally came.

“I always say my blood ran cold twice in my life,” Rabinovich said. “Once, on the day that Eli was diagnosed, and the second time… was when I got the letter, and they told us we don’t need Eli in the army.”

Then her second son reached the age when Israeli boys start deciding which branch of the military they want to join.

Adam chose the Navy and was accepted, so Rabinovich was tasked with explaining Adam’s departure to Eli.

As she waited for Eli to finish typing his response to the news, she was expecting a good luck message.

She never expected to see the words that appeared on the screen, “I want to go to the army also.”

“I’m a secular person, but I know what is going on in the body when miracles are happening,” Rabinovich said. “I was shocked for one week. I couldn’t do anything.”

After the shock wore off, Rabinovich started to make some calls and stumbled across Special in Uniform.

The program was dreamed up by Lieutenant Colonel Ariel Amog in 2001 and made an official brand in 2014. It offers Israelis with disabilities the chance to serve in the military like able-bodied young Israelis do.

Rabinovich sent the Word document Eli wrote to the CEO of Special in Uniform, Mendi Belinitzki.

It said, “I want to go to the army.”

“Eli will go to the army,” Belinitzki responded.

When Eli earned the beret, a graduation ceremony of sorts, the whole family came, including Adam who came down from his base.

“My mother, she came to me and she told me, ‘Hagit, you remember this day that Eli was diagnosed, you were crying?’” Rabinovich said. “She reminded me that I told her that I would not have two soldiers in the house.”

“She told me, ‘Look. You have two boys in the army,’” Rabinovich said.

Eli goes to work at a base every Monday and Wednesday with a guide.

While he is there, he sorts medical supplies, a task he is very good at. In his home, he helps sort utensils.

“On Monday and Wednesday, Eli is happy more than the rest of the week,” Rabinovich said. “And I, I feel like I’m breathing in more, I feel like a lot of oxygen is going through because in these hours Eli is in the army, I know he is like everyone.”

“He’s like everyone,” she repeated.

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