Hi, my name is Raz and I love to hike. I am 20 years old from a small and quiet village in the north of Israel called Yokneam Moshava. When I was eight-and-a-half years old I was injured in a serious car accident that left me paralyzed and requiring the use of a wheelchair and ventilation machine. Today I know how to live with the disability and limitation and to enjoy life. One of the things that I really enjoy is a hike in the great outdoors.
When I turned eighteen, it was clear to me that just like my friends who enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), I too wanted to contribute to the State so I decided to do national service. Due to my love for nature, I decided to do my service with LOTEM- Making Nature Accessible. LOTEM is a non-profit organization that guides people with disabilities in nature and develops accessible hiking trails. The outings are led by LOTEM’s soldier guides and national service volunteers and take place in every region of Israel.
Israeli culture places much emphasis on the connection between humans and nature. Despite this, there is not enough awareness in Israel about the need to bring people with disabilities out to nature and because of this, there are not enough accessible trails in the country.
In the framework of my service, I write a blog about accessible trails in Israel. Throughout the year I visit different accessible trails and review it from my point of view, with an emphasis on the issue of accessibility and suitability to individuals with disabilities.
I would like to share with you two recommendations for accessible trails:
My home trail- Nahal HaShofet– An accessible trail in Nahal Hashofet was developed by LOTEM while preserving the unique landscape of the park. JNF-USA helped fund the completion of an accessible loop, enabling individuals to hike independently on a circular trail. The path itself is simple and quite welcoming, wide and accessible for wheelchairs. There are unique markings on the pavement, such as raised stones for people with visual impairments and indications when there is a turn. There is an accessible parking lot for vehicles. Along the path there are trees, reeds and flowers which serve as a home for many animals including foxes, porcupines and more. Spending time in all this green provides a sense of calm and tranquility, what every human being needs once in a while.
My little secret- The Solelim Forest– This trail is accessible, beautiful but not well known. There is a sign marking the trail and the wide accessible parking lot. After a short distance from the start of the trail, there are remains of an ancient winepress. In my opinion this attraction is less suitable for individuals in wheelchairs because from where I sit, it is impossible to see the entire winepress. The trail boasts a large cave. At the entrance there is a wide wooden deck from which you can see the entrance to the cave comfortably. Around the deck there is a wooden railing that prevents one from falling. The height of the railing is suitable to individuals in wheelchairs and does not obstruct the view of the green fields in the area. The path continues and winds until it arrives at a view point that overlooks the eastern side of the Tzippori Stream. The view from there is beautiful and calming.
In summary, going out to nature is always good for me and I am sure that this is the case for most people, especially those with disabilities. If more accessible trails were available in Israel, then more people will merit more moments of happiness and content.
LOTEM– Making Nature Accessible is the leading organization in Israel offering accessible hikes and nature activities to children and adults with special needs. A JNF partner organization, LOTEM serves over 30,000 individuals a year. Follow LOTEM on Facebook to learn more. Visit Raz’s blog and learn about more trails and accessible nature in Israel.