Feb 12, 2018  By Alisa Bodner  Category: Special Needs,

JDAIM: In Israel, an olive harvest accessible to kids in wheelchairs

Planting olive trees with Dick Berman, center in blue jacket. 

February is Jewish Disabilty Awareness Inclusion Month (JDAIM), and Jewish National Fund proudly supports efforts to make sure people with special needs and disabilities are fully included in Israeli society.  

On a chilly December morning two years ago, I had the opportunity to make olive oil with the children of the Keren Or (Ray of Light) special education program and my good friend Dick Berman, JNF board president of Northern California, at LOTEM’s ecological farm in Emek HaShalom.  

Making olive oil with LOTEM is a unique educational experience for individuals with special needs. The activity is sensory-heightening and also provides a hands-on learning experience that's broken down into simple, easy-to-comprehend stages.

We started with harvesting the olives from the trees, pressing the olives into oil and using our finished product to make clay lamps. While the olive press is the only known accessible one in the world, children in wheelchairs until recently had to sit behind during the first stage of harvesting the olives, since the trees were located on an inaccessible slope. Dick and I witnessed a young boy named Rom struggling to reach the trees as he was holding onto his walker.

The fully accessible olive press at LOTEM. 

Fast-forward one year and I return with Dick to the Emek HaShalom Farm, along with his good friends and their children, to celebrate the dedication of a wheelchair accessible olive tree garden. Thanks to Dick, children like Rom will no longer have to sit behind. The celebration was extra meaningful, as Dick dedicated the garden in honor of the children of his Israeli friends. 

“We all would in one way or another want to leave a legacy," Dick said. "Emek HaShalom was in need of a fully accessible olive tree grove. On a gorgeous Dec 4th the dedication took place honoring my Israeli friends' children. These kids are the future of our homeland and the olive tree is perfect symbolism -- peace for all. Most of the 19 kids are too young to grasp the significance of the garden and its place on the fully accessible farm. But as they grow and continue to visit their trees at Emek HaShalom I know they will understand the value of an inclusive society in Israel.”

Just this week, three of the children visited the garden for the first time. Their response to seeing their names engraved on the plaque in the garden is a testament to the impact that this garden has already had on the young children:
Children in front of plaque dedicated in their names. 

Tamar: "This sign means a lot to me because it represents the relationship and love between me and Dick. When I first met Dick I didn't know that he was that amazing and when I got to know him I was very impressed by all his work for JNF and LOTEM and Israel and from that day I knew he was the best volunteer in JNF. Dick, thank you so much for donating the garden of olive trees." 

Guy: "When I saw the garden, I looked at the sign and then I recognized my name. It was very exciting. Dick is a great person and the garden was meant to help people with disabilities and I really think it's a brilliant idea of a great man like Dick."

Zohar: "When I saw the sign I was really impressed because Dick means a lot to me and I can't believe he did all this effort for us and seeing that made me so happy. It's great that this garden will help people with disabilities. I think that all the people that will come to LOTEM's farm will enjoy the trees that Dick planted."

The children who were honored will grow together with the baby olive trees and the garden will always serve as a symbol for them of friendship, kindness, and respect to all humanity.