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Note to Israeli press: William Shatner will be holding a press conference while in Israel. Details to follow.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jodi Bodner

JNF Director of Communications

212-879-9305 ext. 221

jbodner@jnf.org

 

William and Elizabeth Shatner to Visit Israel

Star Takes on New 'Enterprise' in Therapeutic Riding Partnership with JNF

 

 

Pr william ShatnerMay 10, 2006 --  New York, NY -- Millions of people knew him as Captain James T. Kirk, commander of the Starship Enterprise. Millions more now know him as Denny Crane, a directing partner in an upscale law firm (much to the chagrin of some of his other partners). But what many people don't know is that William Shatner is Jewish and of Polish descent.

 

In his 70s, with a still-hot Hollywood career, Shatner shows no signs of slowing down and is turning his attention, energy, and efforts to reconnecting with his Jewish roots and forging a connection to Israel. To accomplish both he has turned to Jewish National Fund and its work with therapeutic riding centers across Israel.

 

William and his wife, Elizabeth, will be in Israel the last week in May for only the second time in their lives to assess the needs of Israel’s therapeutic riding centers as he takes on the role of spokesperson for the William Shatner/Jewish National Fund Therapeutic Riding Consortium Endowment for Israel. They will spend the week visiting different centers across the country, meeting with center directors and heads of State, and learning about JNF's mission to care for the land and people of Israel.

 

Shatner is the third celebrity to take on a Jewish National Fund (JNF) cause. Actor Hal Linden is the national spokesperson for JNF, and world-renowned violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman speaks on behalf of JNF's Inclusive Parks Project.

 

“I want to be the celebrity spokesperson for this important project,” said Shatner. “Ever since the day I saw an exhibition put on by an organization called Ahead with Horses of children who were so severely handicapped some could not even hold their heads up, yet there they were going through intricate exercises on horseback, I was smitten by this cause. You can’t watch these kids without knowing you have to help somehow.

 

“Fifteen years ago I spearheaded the Hollywood Charity Horse Show [HCHS]; now I want to go and make a difference internationally. I am particularly interested in what JNF is doing with this project as I see it as a way to foster peace between the nations. What better way to create a dialogue than by helping handicapped children from different countries feel good about themselves?”

 

Long involved with a few of the therapeutic riding centers that exist in Israel, JNF of America together with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, wanted to do more than just fund one or two centers. The William Shatner/Jewish National Fund Therapeutic Riding Consortium Endowment for Israel will fund the nearly 30 therapeutic riding programs that exist throughout Israel. The goal is to raise $10 million to support these unique programs, and provide scholarships so that no one who would benefit from a therapeutic riding center is denied that opportunity because of the cost. Through the endowment, funds will be raised for all the riding centers in Israel and scholarships provided for children of all religious and ethnic backgrounds and from all walks of life. It is an ideal way to facilitate cooperation between Israelis of all backgrounds, Jordanians and Palestinians.The endowment will be overseen by a board of trustees who will evaluate expenditures and provide hands-on guidance for the programs.

 

The benefits of riding for those with disabilities have been recognized for over 3,000 years, since the time of Hippocrates. Therapeutic riding has been widely used since the early 1950s as a tool for improving the lives of individuals with physical disabilities.

 

Individuals with almost any cognitive, physical and/or emotional disability can benefit from therapeutic riding, driving, vaulting, competition or other purposeful, safe and supervised interaction with horses. Because horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider's body in a manner similar to a human gait, riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in verbalization, flexibility, balance, muscle tone, strength, posture, coordination, motor development and emotional well being. For individuals with mental or emotional disabilities, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem. The sense of independence and acceptance found through these activities with the horse benefits all.

 

PR grofit“Riding is a costly therapy; the work that is done here is highly invested,” said Alice Zuckerman, mother of a Red Mountain rider. “When we began, an instructor sat on the horse behind my child.  She was secured with a belt around her and she had one person guiding her, one on the left and one on the right to protect her. There were five people for one lesson. 

 

“When she started it was so difficult as she could not see, she could hardly hear and her body was so floppy she could hardly control her hand or foot. It was the riding therapy that gave a sign of life for her and literally gave her the ability to stand again on her own two feet. We saw the revival happening from her first therapy session on the horse.  It was unbelievable. From therapy session to session we saw the improvement. She is riding six years now. She gains a sense of balance, a great sense of security and most impressively she feels like everyone else. When she sits on the horse you do not know that she can’t walk independently. She can show off about everything that she does do! Today she rides by herself, trots on the horse and we are plugging ahead, hoping we can afford it.”

 

The William Shatner/Jewish National Fund Therapeutic Riding Consortium Endowment for Israel dovetails with other vital work JNF is doing to help the disabled community in Israel. A recent survey in Israel found that more than 12 million people annually visit JNF parks. But while demand for access to the parks and historical sites has grown extensively, the infrastructure development required to meet this need has been cut due to budgetary constraints. Additionally, it is estimated that as a result of terrorism and military conflicts, the number of Israelis with disabilities has grown by 50% over the last 10 years and will continue to rise by about 5% a year. About 10% of Israel’s population of six million are people with special needs.

 

Jumpstarted with a sizeable contribution from the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation,  one and a half years ago JNF embarked on a $25 million Inclusive Parks campaign. Working with an architect who specializes in the construction of inclusive areas, and with the support of myriad organizations in Israel, JNF is designing parks, picnic areas, playgrounds, leisure corners, nature trails, lookouts, and other recreational facilities in Israel that are inclusive to all.


Jewish National Fund, through its Blueprint Negev initiative, a $500 million campaign to develop the Negev Desert, is also making a major impact in the region by partnering with Aleh, an organization that provides children with disabilities throughout Israel with high-level medical and rehabilitative care to help them realize their full potential. Together, they are building Aleh Negev, a state-of-the-art communal rehabilitative village situated in Ofakim, to provide much-needed services and jobs to the area. Aleh Negev will be home to over 500 residential adults with disabilities and will serve some 12,000 children and young adults with disabilities each year on an outpatient basis. 

"An ambassador for good causes can bring about good results," said Russell F. Robinson, JNF of America's Chief Executive Officer. "William Shatner is just the person to achieve those results for this consortium. We are proud and honored to launch this relationship with him on behalf of the people and the land of Israel."

 

Top photo credit: WilliamShatner.com The photo is available as a high-res jpeg.

Bottom: Rider at Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center at Kibbutz Grofit in the Negev Desert near the Jordanian border.

To learn more about Therapeutic Riding Consortium Endowment for Israel, click here.

 

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Jewish National Fund is a non-profit organization founded in 1901 to serve as caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners—Jewish people everywhere. Over the past century, JNF has planted over 240 million trees, built over 180 reservoirs and dams, developed over 250,000 acres of land, created more than 1,000 parks, provided the infrastructure for 1,000 communities and educated students around the world about Israel and the environment. Today, JNF is putting its century of experience to work with the Blueprint Negev initiative, supporting Israel’s newest generation of pioneers in developing the Negev Desert, Israel’s last frontier. For more information on JNF or to plant trees in Israel, call 1-800-542-TREE (8733) or visit support.jnf.org. To contact your local office, please call 888-JNF-0099 or visit support.jnf.org.

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