KKL-JNF 2-day hike for special-needs students

We were privileged to spend a day hiking and traveling with a group of twenty-five pupils diagnosed as autistic

bridge (photo credit:)
(photo credit: )
Most people identify KKL-JNF with trees, many people know that KKL-JNF is involved with various water-related projects but few realize that ultimately, KKL-JNF activities are about people. One such people-related activity was an outing that took place far from the public eye but certainly one of the most moving and important projects that KKL-JNF supports. We were privileged to spend a day hiking and traveling with a group of twenty-five pupils diagnosed as autistic, from Jerusalem's Zionist Youth Village. As Asher, one of the KKL-JNF guides assigned to the tour explained, this was no simple undertaking. "Each of the students needs to be accompanied by two people, one who works with them on a daily basis, the other a parent or other family member, so we needed two busses for this trip. As a guide, I need to focus on very immediate things, like water, smells and sights. At the same time, my explanations need to be interesting for the parents and Zionist Youth Farm staff. We also have to be flexible and open to changing the plans if necessary." The group's first stop was at the picnic grounds near the Nahal Hashofet trail, where lunch was served in the shade of carob trees. The Nahal Hashofet trail follows a stream with running water all year long, shaded by tall, upright trees and flanked on either side by lush vegetation. KKL-JNF made a special effort to assure that this beautiful nature spot, which is located in Lower Galilee, would be accessible to all sorts of people. Perfectly paved paths and wooden bridges ensure that elderly people, families with baby carriages, people with special needs and the visually impaired will all be able to enjoy Nahal Hashofet's natural beauty. Simona Kohl of the Zionist Youth Village told us that this trip was the first of its kind for this group: "This is the first time that we are going for a two-day trip and sleeping overnight in the Lavi Forest. It is also the first time that a family member is joining us for such a long time. It's a real break with our everyday routine, so we had to plan for it meticulously. Our staff has been talking with the students about what we will be experiencing and showing them pictures of streams, the Kinneret Lake, forests and trees." We asked Simona if the staff and the students had trepidations about such an undertaking. "Quite the opposite," she replied. "Everyone has been very excited about the trip and no one could wait to finally board the busses and leave." Naomi Goshen, the other KKL-JNF guide accompanying the group, said that besides the amazing Zionist Youth Village staff, the volunteers were really wonderful "We have young people here doing their National Service and others from the various youth groups. They are all specially trained to work with people with varying degrees of autism. Many of them tell me that they receive so much from this work, more than they feel they are giving." Asher led us to a small pond formed by the stream and invited everyone to wade in the pond, "only to get your feet wet, nothing else." The students and their helpers all ran for the pond, and within a few minutes, Asher's instructions were long forgotten. Everyone was splashing each other, students and staff, until there was not one dry article of clothing in the entire group. It would be hard to imagine a better activity for such a hot day, typical of Israel's summers. Shmuel Kook of Jerusalem was accompanying his 18 year old daughter, Danielle. "There is only one other girl on the trip, since about 80% of autistic people are male. It's quite a challenge for me and for Danielle, because she's not used to being with me when she's with her teachers. As a general rule, her life is more structured and orderly in the school and when she's with the staff. I need to be sensitive to her needs - sometimes it's better for me to sort of quietly disappear and let her be with the staff. This is such a special opportunity for us and for all the parents here to share such an experience together with our children. There is no way we could have done such a thing on our own." On the way to Kinneret, the students were somewhat alarmed to see smoke billowing in the distance, in the marshy area along the Kinneret's northeastern shore. Naomi explained that unfortunately, dues to the summer heat, carelessness and sometimes intentional arson, fires break out almost every day in different parts of the country, and KKL-JNF, together with other authorities, spends a lot of time and energy putting them out. Our next stop was at the Majrasa on the eastern shores of the Kinneret, where it is possible to take an hour and a half walk through the icy cold waters of the Daliyot stream. But first, of course, lunch was served, along with tons of cold water. It was amazing to see that when the group finished eating, the picnic grounds were left spotless. On the way to the stream trail, Danny Hayim, head of the Youth Village dormitory, told us about KKL-JNF's involvement in this trip: "We work together with KKL-JNF through the Maof Youth Program. This year, we wanted to do something different with the students, so we called Hadar Epstein at KKL-JNF's Education Division. Together with our staff, she worked out a plan, and in addition, KKL-JNF agreed to cover the costs of the overnight camping, the busses, the guides, and entrance fees to nature reserves. There is no way that such a trip could have happened without KKL-JNF. The cost would simply have been prohibitive. I hope and pray that KKL-JNF will continue to enable us to provide our students with such opportunities in the future." Some of the students were frightened to enter the heavily shaded stream. The staff encouraged them, gently yet firmly. It is hard to describe in words the thrill and delight they felt after successfully walking an hour and a half through the stream, between thick brush, with an occasional fish nibbling at their toes. The group went on to Lavi Forest where they spent the night. The next day consisted of more nature spots in northern Israel and the trip back to Jerusalem before Shabbat. KKL-JNF carries out many important projects throughout the country, thanks to its friends and supporters worldwide. Donors are often honored with their names engraved in recognition sites in forest groves, reservoirs and other KKL-JNF sites that they helped to create. In this case, the smiles on the student's faces as they hiked, waded or gazed at the summer night sky were a wordless expression of gratitude to all those who made this extraordinary outing possible. For more information, please visit our website at www.kkl.org.il/eng or e-mail ahuvab@kkl.org.il Sponsored content