My name is Dina, I’m 19 years old, and I live in Tel-Aviv. Every day I commute to Rabin Base in Tel-Aviv and work from 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a unit belonging to the Israeli Navy. You’re probably asking yourselves why am I telling you this, as it seems that I’m just an ordinary soldier serving in the IDF.
My story is a little bit different. I was born with cerebral palsy, which is caused by lack of oxygen during birth. For my entire life, I have struggled with walking and have had to use a wheelchair. Instead of going to the same school as my neighbors when I was growing up, I studied in a special center in Tel-Aviv, where all my specific needs were taken care of.
The day I got the letter saying that I need to report for the IDF’s initial tests and medical exam was one of the most exciting days of my life. But immediately after arriving at the base, I was told that I was exempt due to medical reasons. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted to serve. From that moment, I decided that there was no way that I would take ‘no’ for an answer. I didn’t want to be different from other people my age. And so I did everything in my power to become a soldier in the IDF.
To say the least, my parents and friends were not supportive. They were afraid that the military system would not adjust itself to my needs and that I would just end up suffering from the entire experience. “What do you need all the hassle for? It’ll just be hard on you. And besides, you won’t be the one to save the world.”
But I was determined to show them that I could be a part of the IDF and serve my country. And maybe I won’t save the world, but I can do my bit–in the Navy, as it turned out. After a lot of pushing, I convinced the IDF of my desire to enlist, and I was drafted along with other volunteers.
I’ll never forget my first day. As everybody had warned me, it wasn’t easy. I came out of the house and waited for the bus–not the school bus, for the first time ever, but the public transportation which would take me to the base. Two different buses refused to stop for me and pull down a wheelchair ramp. I was really disheartened, but I told myself that if nothing had managed to stop me so far, two buses certainly wouldn’t do it. When I finally arrived at my base, the smile on my face was as big as ever.
Eventually I got used to public transportation, and the bus drivers got used to me as well. I’ve adjusted well to life in the IDF. I have a thoughtful commander and a great team of talented soldiers surrounding me.
I think I can contribute a lot to the army and I feel it’s given me the opportunity to be independent, to grow up and get to know the “real life”. And if nothing else, it’s taught me one thing–to never, ever give up.
Pvt. Dina Elaiv began serving in the IDF Navy last year and recently wrote the above column for “First Person“, a (Hebrew) Ynet column written by volunteers about their work. If you found this article interesting, check out our Twitter or the IDF website.