For further information on Christian tourism and Holy Land Tours to Israel contact Travelujah.
country's cobblestone streets, landmark churches, Roman amphitheaters
and ancient cisterns may be enticing to many tourists, but can be
daunting to someone in a wheelchair.
This prospect, however, did
not dissuade Rick Huntress and a group of 17 - five of whom were in
wheelchairs - from visiting the Holy Land.
"This is a trip that I
had always wanted to do - to actually see where Jesus lived, taught,
and gave his life for me," Huntress told Travelujah.
accident in the US Air Force Reserves left him paralyzed and in a
wheelchair in 1997, Huntress had dismissed the idea of ever traveling to
the Holy Land. But two years ago his daughters visited Israel and
returned home raving about their experiences.
"They came back
with so many wonderful pictures, stories, and blessings that I was more
determined than ever to go myself," Huntress recalled.
contacted Craig Hartman, who organized the trip his daughters took, and
expressed an interest in a tour to Israel that would be suitable for
him. With Huntress's guidance, Hartman, director of Shalom Ministries,
organized a tour paying attention to which sites a wheelchair would or
would not be able to do.
After two years of planning, five
people in wheelchairs, plus two older men who preferred a slower moving
tour, signed up for the trip.
"All of us took a leap of faith in
signing up for this trip, and all of us are so thrilled that we did,"
Huntress said. "We gave a very strong testimony to ourselves, the
able-bodied people in our group to and everyone that we came in contact
with that we can do whatever we put our minds to."
sites in Israel can be challenging to people with disabilities. In 2008,
Israel's Tourism Ministry participated in a project to shore up
accessibility at tourist sites around the country. According to the
is now accessible to wheelchairs and those with visual
disabilities. Several beaches are wheelchair accessible and some include
sun beds for the disabled. Most of Jewish National Fund recreational
facilities include wheelchair-accessible paths and bathrooms.
warnings by friends that it would be a difficult trip, Craig and Donna
Holtermann of New York joined a non-handicapped tour in September 2009.
Donna has multiple sclerosis and is in a wheelchair.
biggest discouragement is the long plane ride," Craig explained. "That's
the hardest part of the entire trip. Once you get to Israel it is like
going anywhere else. We did almost everything we wanted to do."
included going to sites and eating at restaurants that were not
handicapped accessible. At almost every place they went, if getting in
was going to be difficult, someone nearby always jumped in to help.
Holtermanns had such a good experience in Israel that they came back a
second time just seven months later, this time on their own. They booked
a handicapped accessible room in a Jerusalem hotel, centrally located
between the Old City and downtown so they were in walking distance of
"We didn't use public transportation and, everywhere
else we wanted to go, we walked," Holtermann said. "The Via Dolorosa
was the only place I had a really hard time. Everything else was
Holtermann said there were a few things they
couldn't have done without help, such as swimming in the Dead Sea
baptism at the Jordan River. And the only place they didn't visit in
Jerusalem that they would've liked to was the Mount of Olives - the hill
was too daunting for him to push a wheelchair, Holtermann said. Also at
the Western Wall, they needed someone of the same gender help Donna get
to the wall to pray, he noted.
Huntress' group also encountered
a few challenges. Each time someone offered assistance. For example, on
boat tour the workers "pulled, pushed, and lifted each of
us to make that possible. They went way above and beyond any
expectations," Huntress said.
"Many sights that we visited,
wheelchair users would not have been able to do unless they had some
very strong and willing able bodied helpers," Huntress said. "Each sight
had its own unique set of challenges, but we were able to do everything
that we set out to do."
Sometimes seeing sites took
determination. On Mount Carmel
, Hartman wanted to make sure everyone in
the group got to the lookout on the roof so that they could see the
layout of the land.
"The only ‘minor' thing standing between us
and the roof top were two large flights of stairs," Huntress joked.
Those in the group not in wheelchairs lifted each of those in
wheelchairs slowly and arduously up the steps until the entire group
reached the roof.
For a handicapped specific tour, Hartman said
much planning is involved and that some sites are not doable or require
creativity to accomplish. But that should not deter someone in a
wheelchair from visiting Israel, he said.
"They should come to
Israel because it will change their lives as they see the Bible come
alive and they will never read the Bible the same way again after being
there," Hartman said. "I learned a great deal through my interactions
with our special friends and that has impacted my life and I know the
same will happen to anyone who helps these folks get there."
Access Israel provides detailed
information on accessible sites and accommodation, restaurants,
festivals, car rental agencies and other useful information for special
needs travelers on its website: www.aisrael.org.
Yad Sarah lends tourists and visitors wheelchairs, crutches and other aides without charge, requesting only a security deposit. Phone: 02 644 4555. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mobility Rental Israel will deliver mobility equipment and health-related products to tourists anywhere in the country, including hotel, residence or airport. Phone: 03 948 0401. Email: email@example.com
Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah,
the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians
to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour
and travel experiences on Travelujah.