The programs, which reach about 30,000 people every year, include:
- Touching the Western Wall, giving children and adults with special needs the opportunity to visit significant historical and religious sites in Jerusalem.
- Four Seasons accessible hikes, often at the LOTEM-JNF accessible hiking trail in Nahal HaShofet.
- Nature’s Way hands-on activities at Emek HaShalom accessible eco-farm.
- Green Time, where LOTEM guides bring nature to youth, adults and senior citizens confined to residential facilities, rehab centers and hospitals.
- Integra-Teva, using nature and outdoor activities to foster coexistence among Jewish and Arab youth with special needs.
- Mother Nature, offering women and children in domestic-abuse shelters the opportunity to enjoy a day of respite in nature.
- From Black to Green, taking children from special-needs and regular classrooms on outings to the Carmel Forest and KKL-JNF parks to learn about fire prevention and the importance of preserving the natural beauty of Israel.
- Natural Integration, a four-week program that brings children in a special needs class together with mainstream peers for educational activities in nature. This unique program, funded by the Ruderman Foundation, builds awareness and facilitates friendships between the groups of children.
Pressing olive oil at Emek HaShalom
Integrating land and people
“We work with the Israeli ministries of education, agriculture, health and welfare, the National Insurance Institute, and also with private foundations and donors in Israel and abroad,” says Bodner. For the past seven years, JNF has been a partner.
“JNF is a great friend of ours. I always say that they provide for the land and people of Israel, and we work with them to bring the land of Israel to all the people of Israel,” says Bodner.
LOTEM spreads the word about its year-round programs through schools and institutions, and many participants return season after season. Rather than offer the programs for free, LOTEM charges a minimal fee as for any similar nature outing, so that participants do not feel they are receiving charity, Bodner explains. The organization raises funds to cover whatever portion of the cost is not possible for the group to pay.
Recently, LOTEM has been increasing its cooperation with special-needs groups from abroad such as a Birthright trip for members of Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities in the United States.
“There are others we don’t work with yet, but would love to offer our services to them,” says Bodner. “We’re the experts in the field of accessible hikes, so it’s really something we’ll be working to expand.”
In addition, LOTEM arranges Inclusive Israel tours for visiting individuals or families to participate in a day of activities free of charge, to raise awareness of the organization and offer a different experience in Israel.