IDF soldiers perform national anthem in sign language

Trainees in special course for disabled volunteers learn ‘Hatikva’ in solidarity with deaf comrades

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

IDF ceremonies regularly bring the assembled crowd — parents, siblings, and lovers — to tears. But a ceremony last Thursday at the Bahad 11 base in Tzrifin was especially poignant for onlookers and soldiers alike.

Like all soldiers who finish their basic training, the 150 graduates of the Ofek special training course for volunteer soldiers performed Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva” — but this time with a twist.

They did it in sign language.

Yahala Lachmish, the reservist soldier called up to sign for the ceremony, told The Times of Israel that the idea came from the soldiers themselves, only a small minority of whom are deaf.

“This is the sixth or seventh ceremony that I’ve translated at,” said Lachmish. “At this particular ceremony, one of the soldiers, who is not deaf or hard of hearing, who has no connection to that, simply saw that they were signing all the time, and she approached her commander and asked if they all could sign the words of the IDF oath…together with the soldiers who were signing. The commander ultimately decided that everyone would do it in their own language- whoever signed would sign, whoever spoke would speak.”

When Lachmish told the deaf soldiers about  the decision, they had another idea. “One of the soldiers said, ‘Let’s sign the words of Hatikva. It’s easier, it’s more meaningful, it’s something they can take with them after this'” Lachmish recounted. “And she in turn approached the commander to ask if they could do it. It was literally one day before the ceremony.”

Only hours before the ceremony was set to begin, one of the deaf soldiers taught her comrades the signs for Hatikva.

“It was amazing,” Lachmish said. “The original idea came from someone who isn’t deaf at all, and the initiative to teach everyone came from some of the deaf soldiers…I was standing there signing in front of the soldiers, and I couldn’t even make a sound because of all the emotion.”

“At every ceremony I attend in the future, I’ll suggest this option.”

“This certainly caused many of us to shed more than just one tear,” one of the soldiers’ mothers told Walla. “The fact that they volunteered is not to be taken for granted, as we heard from the course commander. This gesture of learning “Hatikva” in sign language and singing it like this absolutely adds many more [tears].”

The Ofek course is designed for soldiers who volunteer for IDF service, despite physical disabilities. In this particular course, only six of the 150 soldiers were deaf.

The course is also attended by soldiers with a variety of handicaps, including some who are blind and those who require the use of a wheelchair. They fill a range of support roles, with men serving three years and women two, just like conscripted soldiers.

In February 2012, IDF soldiers completed the first ‘Signs of Change’ course, a program “designed to improve accessibility and communication between commanders and soldiers suffering from hearing impediments or deafness,” the IDF website stated.

According to the IDF Spokesman’s Unit, over 100 soldiers with hearing impediments serve in the IDF. They use writing and lip reading to communicate with their peers, as they serve in regular IDF units.

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