WMC 2012: Nature is for Everyone

Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:19 AM

WMC 2012 participants visit the Lotem Center in Ramat Menashe Park.

The green hills of Peace Valley in Ramat Menashe Park offer an amazing experience for nature aficionados and people who love Israel. An ecological center was created in the heart of the valley, the Lotem Center, which specializes in nature activities and cultural activities for children and adults with special needs.

Group photo at Ramat Menashe. Photo: Ancho Gosh

People with limitations can enjoy a variety of activities there, in the winery where wine is made and in the olive press where oil is produced, both of which are wheelchair accessible. They can go on nature tours on the accessible paths to see the water wheel and the terraces, and learn about ancient agricultural methods. Soon there will also be a bakery, where they can participate in all the stages of bread making, from reaping the wheat until the warm aromatic bread has been baked.
KKL JNF has been a partner to all of these activities, and many more, since 2005. Twenty thousand people with special needs visit the Center every year. When the World Marketing Conference participants were visiting, there was also a group of schoolchildren there from Jerusalem, children with CP, who were enjoying the great outdoors.
The Lotem Center is run by the Lotem NGO, which is directed by Ms. Flora Friedland. She herself is the mother of a disabled child. “Everyone deserves to enjoy nature,” she said to the visitors from the marketing conference, “and from my own personal experience, I can tell you that children with special needs get a lot out of the experience.”

Peace Valley. Photo: Yoav Devir
Ramat Menashe Park has recently been accredited by UNESCO as the first biosphere reserve in Israel. It covers an area of 84,000 dunams of forest, woodland, a nature reserve, streams, springs, cultivated fields, pastures and rural communities.
A biosphere is an area where the ecosystem is protected along with consideration for the needs of the population. All the planning work, construction and development is managed with a sense of commitment to the environment and there is coordination between the different authorities, among them KKL JNF. A fenced area called the core area is left undisturbed, with no human activity allowed there whatsoever, and all the relevant parties are committed to the balance between the preservation of natural resources and economic development.
KKL JNF has completed a 27 kilometer road in the park, which traverses forested areas, waterways and open expanses. Recreation areas were constructed throughout the park, with the support of friends of KKL JNF all over the world, including picnic tables and rest areas. Footpaths were completed as well as bicycle routes and roads for cars and ATVs. Ramat Menashe used to be covered with Tabor oaks, most of which have been destroyed over the years, and KKL JNF is working on the restoration of the forest by planting acorns.

Mr. Eli Aflalo addresses the group. Photo: Ancho Gosh

Mr. Laurence Franks, National President of KKL JNF Spain, chaired the forum of KKL JNF representatives at the Peace Valley Farm and called upon Mr. Eli Aflalo, KKL JNF Co-Chairman, to say a few words.
“Together we are making Israel a better and more beautiful place,” said Aflalo. “I don’t have to tell you about the work of KKL JNF in the past and at present, because you know more about it than I do.” He noted the different kinds of work being done by KKL JNF—preparing land for agriculture and for construction, forestry, reservoir construction and water source development, park development, recreation site development and tourism, scenic road construction and cycling trails, and of course education.
“We are obligated to teach the younger generation about the connection between the people of Israel, the land of Israel and KKL JNF,” said Aflalo, who concluded by mentioning the assaults on KKL JNF in the world. “This is an attack against the State of Israel and against the entire Jewish people. We must not fear small groups of extremists. This is something we must cope with together—KKL JNF in Israel and KKL JNF throughout the world—and you are the people on the front lines.”

Dancing at the cocktail reception. Photo: Yoav Devir
From the Lotem Center, the conference participants proceeded to go on a wonderful tour of Nahal Hashofet on the accessible path from the adjacent Haruvim recreation area. At dusk, against the scenic view of the forest and the creek, they had a gala cocktail reception, where they danced in the candlelight to music played by a live band with beautiful Ramat Menashe in the background.