The Access Israel Organization and the Keren Kayemeth held a tree planting ceremony last Friday (January 14) at the Ben Shemen Forest.

At a moving, unique and colorful event, with the participation of 200 handicapped and their families, 200 new trees were planted in the Ben Shemen Forest in a specially prepared accessible area for the handicapped.

The plantings were one of the many which took place to celebrate Tu Be'Shvat all over the country.

The accessible tree planting is a combined initiative of Access Israel and the Keren Kayemeth to enable the handicapped to enjoy the tradition of tree planting like everyone else.

The Chairman of Access Israel, Yuval Wagner, senior Keren Kayemeth staff, Knesset Member Ilan Gilon and heads of organizations for the handicapped all participated in the special event.

Vehicles for the disabled with special lifts transported the families, including parents and/or children with handicaps. Special accessible toilets were set up, rubber paths were placed to enable wheel chair access to the planting area and chairs were scattered over the planting area so that the handicapped could have easy and independent access to the planting.

The planting ceremony was held in the framework of the community project "a tree for every inhabitant". At a time when world forests are decreasing, the Keren Kayemeth plans to plant 7 million trees, a tree for every resident of Israel. The project's aim is to plant in open public areas in the cities, in city avenues and in forests, ensuring water saving, lowering temperatures in the cities and improving the quality of urban life.

According to Effi Shtensler, Chairman of the Keren Kayemet, his organization considers the handicapped an integral part of the population for which it operates. During the last few years it has invested considerable efforts and funding to enable the handicapped to access and enjoy the forests and parking areas specially prepared for them, taking into consideration their special needs and safety.

One of the participants in the event was 16 year old Omer Lahat, who suffers from CP. Here is what Omer had to say about the event: "My family and I were invited to an accessible planting event on Friday at Ben-Shemen forest. It is the second year in a row I'm participating in this event. I'm 16 years old and in previous years – I wasn't able to reach the planting area, which wasn't accessible, and my parents and my brother had to plant my tree for me. This time, I was able to approach the planting area, grab the tree and plant it myself. The holiday became a big celebration for me, and I'd like to thank the organizers for allowing me and my friends to be a part of it.

ACCESS ISRAEL WOULD LIKE TO EXPRESS ITS DEEP APRECIATION FOR ALL WHO MADE THE EVENT SUCH A SUCCESS:  Edna Feinstein, in charge of the Keren Kayemeth events, Ronnie Tirosh of the Keren Kayemeth and all its staff who assisted, the volunteers of the Year of Service, Aharon Lagon, who covers Access Israel for the media, Aroma Israel, Afikim Electric Buggies – the leading producers worldwide, Falafel Mishel Huadi of Herzliya, Coca-Cola, the Tel-Aviv Scouts Yarkon Branch, Mihalev and the Step Here team, Sami Siroa, translator into sign language and the staff and volunteers of Access Israel.

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