LOTEM is an Israel-based organization that offers excursions, nature clubs, and creative workshops in nature to people with physical challenges and other special needs. It was founded by Amos Ziv, an enthusiastic outdoorsman who, while hiking in the Israeli countryside, encountered a group of visually impaired teenagers and realized how difficult it must be for them to enjoy outings as he did. He recognized that in order for special-needs hikers to be able to enjoy excursions and activities in rural environments, suitable guidance and trails were essential. In 1993 Ziv founded LOTEM, and soon after teamed up with Sorin Hershcu, a quadriplegic who was wounded during the IDF rescue of hostages in Entebbe in 1976. Today, the organization has centers in Jerusalem and the North of Israel, and serves more than thirty thousand special-needs participants—youngsters with physical challenges as well as women and children living in shelters—every year. Its motto: “Making Nature Accessible.”
Among LOTEM’s programs are “Four Seasons” (activities for special-needs people in natural settings throughout the year); “Mother Nature” (outings for women and children who live in shelters); and “Integra-Teva.” This last program brings together Jews and Arabs from all parts of Israel to learn about organic products from the Middle East as well as about ancient agricultural techniques used in the region throughout the ages. Each year, more than six hundred children and adults—all with special needs—take part in Integra-Teva. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze make pita bread over an open fire, grape juice in a wine press, and olive oil in an olive press (all specially designed to be accessible to people with physical challenges). Working together on a common task, despite differences in race, religion, or culture, can create bonds that might otherwise seem impossible.