Nearly two years have passed since I completed my national service as a guide with LOTEM in Jerusalem but every time that I return to guide a group, that amazing feeling of being part of something big comes back to me. LOTEM’s outings to nature impact so many people with special needs and essentially give them the ability to experience a sense of normalcy–what they deserve as human beings who live in this beautiful world that surrounds us.
A little while ago, I guided a group of children with Cerebral Palsy from Haifa. Just getting off the bus into the verdant landscapes of Emek HaShalom, which is flowering during this season after the winter rains, lit up their faces. We had a picnic in the middle of nature–who would have thought that there are children for whom this experience is so uncommon? The children prepared on their own olive oil in the wheelchair accessible oil press, spun the machine with such excitement and prepared clay lamps with great patience and dedication.
We ate wild mustard flowers–the children did not even think that it could be possible to eat a flower that you pick in nature! So many activities that most of us would take for granted but turned the day into such a festive and special experience for these children.
For me, this outing and these children were a ray of light in the middle of a routine week. The experience was a reminder to me what freedom is about and what we need to be so grateful for on the Passover holiday and every other day of the year.
LOTEM- Making Nature Accessible is the leading organization in Israel providing accessible hikes and nature activities around Israel to children and adults with special needs. A JNF partner organization, LOTEM serves close to 35,000 participants a year. To make a donation go to www.jnf.org/lotem