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"Why shouldn´t I serve in the army and push the limits?"

A Special Girl with Special Needs: "Why shouldn´t I serve in the army and push the limits"?
In her childhood, May Ofir starred in Krembo Wings events and invoked a lot of excitement. This summer she created history by becoming the first Krembo Wings member with disabilities from to enlist in the IDF.
By Zohar Elia
(Originally published in Hebrew on 26.12.17 on XNet online at: 
 May Ofir. "I was enlisted into a wonderful and accepting unit, with a great commander and nice people.
The place is accessible, which is very important". (Photo: Tzvika Tishler)
 With her parents, on a trip to Alaska. "I remember my father´s face when he brought me to IDF Recruitment Center
Tears of excitement rolled down his cheeks". (Photo: courtesy of May Ofir)
 At the UN, with Nir Brunstein chairperson of the board of Krembo Wings, and Hadass Stanger, 
Director of Guidance and Training. 
(Photo: Courtesy of Krembo Wings)

 View here: A short video that Ofir filmed when she was 13.
May Ofir is the pretty, strong and optimistic face of Krembo Wings – a youth movement for children with and without disabilities. This past July she made a small step in history, and a big step on her way to an independent life, when she enlisted in the IDF, and became the first (and to this day, the only) member with disabilities from the Krembo Wings wearing an IDF uniform. "Military service is something I thought about when I was in Junior High", says Ofir. "My parents and siblings served in the army, so why shouldn´t I? The fact that I have a disability doesn´t stop me from breaking boundaries, and doing everything that I want."   
With severe Scoliosis in her back, and a childhood full of surgeries and treatments, Ofir has gone through some very difficult experiences, but has also accumulated impressive accomplishments. Behind her are many appearances on television and on stage, interviews on the radio, and the highlight, a speech she gave in the UN two years ago, as part of a conference on the issue of inclusion of people with disabilities in society. "At the end of my speech, the representatives of the different countries gave me a standing ovation", she tells. "At that moment I felt that thousands of young people with disabilities were standing on the podium together with me. Young people who, like me, sometimes felt like they are ´invisible´. I felt that together we won against all the prejudices and worked towards a better world."
Some of these young people she met in Krembo Wings, a movement that is mostly funded by donations, and has close to 6,000 active members – a third of them with disabilities. Everyone participates in activities of the kind you find in every youth movement: games, discussions, trips, summer camp. For some of the members with disabilities, the youth movement is the only place where they can spend time in the afternoons outside their homes. "Krembo Wings means the world to me", says Ofir about the special movement, which is currently trying to raise funds to find a place in the movement for 3,500 more kids with disabilities who are on the waiting lists. "At Krembo Wings I can be completely me, with no masks on. There, first, they see me, May, and only after, they see my disability. There everyone first sees the person, and nobody judges him or her by how they look or what they can or can´t do."
Almost Britney Spears
Ofir (aged 19 and a half) was born to father who is an electrical engineer and a mother who is a nurse. The couple already had two grown kids (Meital, currently 31, and Yuval, currently 29) and everything looked normal during the third pregnancy. Only after the baby was born, they discovered that she suffers from severe back Scoliosis and muscle weakness. At the age of four, after many treatments, she started walking, and underwent several spinal surgeries in an attempt to straighten it. She went to special education schools, but it was hard for a social and intelligent girl, whose only disability is physical, to fit in. "When I was in third grade we moved to Hod Hasharon", Ofir says, "but the closest class that fit me was in Rishon Lezion. It was a small class, for children with physical disabilities, and not mental or behavioral disabilities. Every morning I would get up at six to be on the transport at half past six."
With a mobility limitation and friends who live far away, she found it difficult to find a social circle. At the age of thirteen, she heard about Krembo Wings, which opened one of its first branches in Hod Hasharon, and there she found a warm home, varied accessible activities, and friends of all kinds. Thanks to her pleasant character, captivating smile and sense of humor, Ofir became Krembo Wings representative in the media, and started appearing regularly in the movement´s benefit concerts alongside Eyal Kitsis [a famous Israeli TV personality], who has been hosting them voluntarily. "The first time I stood with Kitsis on the stage in front of 8,000 people, I felt like Britney Spears, only not blond", she smiles. "I shouted: ´Yallah Krembo´ and the entire audience answered me, little May. The speech in the UN was also an honor I did not dream of. It gave me a chance to pass on our message that difference is good and a positive thing, and that we need to accept those who are different as they are, and not distinguish them from everyone else. After my speech, I got a note from the Deputy Ambassador to the UN, which said that many people represented Israel in the UN, but I was one of the best." 
Ofir with her mother in New York. "The Deputy Ambassador to the UN wrote me that
I was one of the best representatives." 
Around the same time, she left the special education school and moved to a regular high school – Ramon school in Hod Hasharon. "It was a different framework than what I was used to. This was also the first time that I studied with youth who were not from the environment I was used to. I was always with kids with disabilities, and suddenly I got to know kids who don´t have any physical disability. At first, I had many fears; I asked myself how they will accept me, and how it will work there. However, I joined an amazing class, which was warm and accepting. The school made sure that my home class will always be on the ground floor, but still I needed to go upstairs occasionally, and when they realized that it was difficult for me – they installed an elevator especially for me!"
The next stage included being called up at the IDF recruitment center, and being recruited into the Air Force. "I remember my father´s face when he brought me to the center", Ofir smiles. "I walked in a civilian, and walked out a soldier, and tears rolled down his cheeks when he saw his daughter taking another substantial step in life. I was enlisted into a wonderful and accepting unit, with a great commander and nice people. The place is accessible, which is very important. I have a very challenging position and I feel that I am contributing." 
You have friends with and without disabilities. With whom do you feel most comfortable?
"I have fun in all of the social circles I am a part of, but of course I have a common language with my friends with disabilities. We discuss our disabilities and ways to deal with them, but also the other members of the movement can relate to these subjects. Although they don´t have disabilities, but no one is perfect." 
In Air Force uniform. "I have a very challenging position and I feel that I am contributing."
No frustrations
The main challenge she faces today as an adult, is leading an independent life. An important step towards the anticipated independence was getting a drivers permit. "It took me a year to get my drivers permit, but today I already drive to the army, and sometimes even give my friends a lift. As a little girl, everywhere there were stairs, I was always in my father´s arms. Now that I am grown up and learning to be independent, I do not have my father´s arms anymore – it is me facing my situation alone. These years are the most important for me in terms of becoming independent, and frankly, I do not remember a situation in which I did not manage. I always make sure that the place I am going to is accessible, safe and has parking close by."
Two weeks ago, while driving to the base, she came across a rally of disabled people protesting for equal rights. "The traffic stopped because of the rally, and I empathized with the protestors. Although I was in a hurry to get to the base, I really connected to the rally, because I am part of this group."
What bothers you in the way society treats people with disabilities?
"It used to bother me a lot that kids stared at me and asked their moms: ´What is that? What does she have on her back?´ – but I learned to ignore it. Today, when kids stare at me – either I stare back, or I smile and say hello. I had a happy childhood, and I am a girl with no frustrations, and am satisfied with every moment in life. I have an incredible family, with siblings who love me and are proud of me, and I am content with the place I am in."
Where will you be after the army?
"In the meantime I don´t have any plans. Maybe I will work at Krembo Wings."
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