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Raz Rutman Doesn’t Let Paralysis Stop his Goals of
Being a Jewish National Fund Champion  

By: Rivkah Lambert Adler

Raz Rutman Jerusalem Marathon P2.jpg

Among a crowded field of some 25,000 taking part in the 4th annual Jerusalem Marathon on March 21, one participant, with festive balloons rising atop his wheelchair, stood out from all others. Raz Rutman participated in the marathon on behalf of LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible, a Jewish National Fund partner and non-profit organization that provides accessible and therapeutic programs in Israel to people with disabilities. The 20-year-old has been paralyzed from the neck down since age eight, when a tragic car accident claimed the life of his older sister, Eden. Despite being dependent on a ventilator 24 hours a day, he has not let his condition stop him from fulfilling his passion to help others.

Today, Raz Rutman performs his national service with LOTEM, where he guides hundreds of mostly English-speaking visitors on Nahal HaShofet, Israel’s only fully accessible nature trail of its kind. When not guiding, he also blogs about the accessible portions of nature trails to be found throughout Israel. Along with his colleagues from LOTEM, who danced, sang and ran beside his electric wheelchair, Raz participated in the 800-meter accessible portion of the Jerusalem Marathon in order to raise money for LOTEM. And raise money he did - as much as $10,000.

What would make a young man devote so much and with such purpose to a non-profit organization? Officially, LOTEM’s mission is to make nature accessible to those who are otherwise unable to enjoy the bountiful blessings of being outdoors. But that’s only part of the story.

Following the devastating accident in 2002, Raz spent the next two years at Alyn Rehabilitation Center for Children and Youth in Jerusalem, with his father Moshe by his side. Meanwhile, back home in northern Israel, Raz’s mother Ester spent those years healing from her own injuries and caring for sons, Yonatan and newborn Ariel. Young women doing their military service with LOTEM essentially moved in with Ester Rutman and her two youngest children.  After their regular working day, LOTEM’s soldiers slept over, ate with and cared for the family. Every two years, a new group of LOTEM’s soldiers carried the family through their most difficult challenges. And when Raz and Moshe finally came home, LOTEM was there as well, to escort Raz to school and to help the family acclimate to their new challenges.

“My parents taught us children that we all must help others, that we should give our knowledge and experience freely, as the LOTEM soldiers did for our family,” said Raz following the race. “In exchange, we ourselves learn and grow. In the end, this is what drives me to do all I can for others.”

Raz Rutman Jerusalem Post P3.jpg

Today, the family is strong and united in their support of Raz and his mission to raise money for LOTEM.

Ori Friedland, now 25 years old, also participated in the Jerusalem Marathon to raise money for LOTEM. While working as a hiking guide before his army service, Ori fell from a cliff, suffered a  spinal cord injury and has been in a wheelchair ever since. After rehab, he connected with LOTEM and through the association, he became reacquainted with his passion for guiding. “LOTEM,” Ori declared with a hugely confident smile, “is true social justice. The organization exists to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of their special needs.”

In addition to financial support provided by the Israeli government, LOTEM is one of Jewish National Fund’s partner agencies. The two organizations work together year-round to raise funds to support LOTEM’s exclusive mission of making the great outdoors accessible.

The trails on which Raz and Ori guide are one of LOTEM’s key ways of bringing nature to those who cannot easily experience it. In addition, LOTEM staffs 60 nature clubs, bringing an hour or two of weekly nature activities to adults with physical and mental disabilities throughout Israel and takes groups of participants with special needs on nature outings around the country. And in Emek HaShalom near Yokneam, close to 10,000 people per year visit LOTEM’s ecological farm. Half-day educational workshops demonstrate the site’s fully accessible facilities, including wine and olive presses, a bakery and water wheel. LOTEM’s farm in Emek HaShalom is inclusive for everyone, from kindergarten children to the elderly, with and without special needs.

As Raz says, “Spending time in nature adds balance to everyone’s life. This is true even more so for people who spend a lot of time in hospitals and treatment centers.”

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