Tablets a lifeline for Israeli children with special needs
Lt. Col. Eliya Eshel delivers a tablet computer to a child with special needs.
Photo: Special in Uniform

For kids with disabilities, the Gazan rockets and having to leave home present tough challenges.

By Pesach Benson
November 2, 2023

(JNS) — Eight-year-old Mendy Pruss sat in his wheelchair, dumbfounded. Why did the soldiers at the front door want to see him?

Soldiers associated with Special in Uniform have traveled across Israel, distributing high-quality tablets filled with learning and games to hundreds of children with disabilities. They heard that Mendy suffers from a severe form of intellectual disability.

Would he like a tablet?

Mendy’s face lit up.

“I live in Ashkelon, where we’re used to occasional sirens and rockets, but these days have turned into one long nightmare,” Mendy’s mother, Mushka, explained. “The constant fear, and especially the loud booms were terribly overwhelming for all of the children, but for kids with special needs like Mendy, the challenges are far greater. Mendy senses everyone’s panic, and he doesn’t know how to process or deal with his emotions.”

She added, “This is such a help. People can’t imagine what it means to keep Mendy entertained. And it wasn’t just the tablet, but the heartwarming note and picture from the person who donated the tablet wishing Mendy and the rest of us strength and courage to get past these challenging times. The gesture was so moving.”

One tablet reached the Doueck family from Ashkelon for the use of their son David, who is on the autism spectrum.

“We only moved to Ashkelon fairly recently,” said Avraham Doueck, 45, an electrician who immigrated with his family from France four years ago. “Since that dark Shabbat [of Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists attacked the western Negev during the Simchat Torah holiday], my wife has been suffering panic attacks, and the kids are very scared,” he said.

They left Ashkelon after a missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit across the street from their home. They are staying in the central city of Beit Shemesh where someone offered them temporary use of an empty apartment.

“Everyone is so unsettled. We’re living out of suitcases. The kids don’t have their regular beds, schools, extra-curricular activities, friends or toys. It’s tough for all of us, but it’s especially unsettling for our little David who has autism,” Doueck said. “David always takes a lot of time and energy, but now that he doesn’t have school, he needs round-the-clock care. From the first second that he received the tablet, he was hooked.”

Said Avraham’s wife, Renee, “This war has taken a toll on all of us. I haven’t slept a night since Simchat Torah. The letter that came along with the tablet really warmed my heart. David needs full-time attention, and now with the tablet, he’s busy and so much calmer, which gives me time to deal with everyone else’s needs. We’re so, so grateful.”

Special in Uniform has received thousands of requests for tablets, and in response, it launched an initiative pairing children with donors around the world who gift them with a $50 tablet. The donor also writes a note and/or sends a picture to the recipient that is delivered together with the tablet.

The Special in Uniform program is a collaborative initiative of the Israel Defense Forces and Jewish National Fund-USA that focuses on integrating young people with physical and mental disabilities into the Israeli military and society. Around a thousand Special In Uniform soldiers are serving in 45 bases in all branches of the IDF.

Since the war began, close to 1,000 tablets have already been distributed.

“For some kids, tablets are luxuries. But for special children and their families, these tablets are their protected space,” said Lt. Col. (res.) Ariel Almog, chairman of Special in Uniform.

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