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JNF Wire: Green Therapy in Israel's Negev Desert: How Therapeutic Gardening is Helping Residents of Aleh Negev Grow and Thrive

February 11, 2016
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
212-879-9305 x222
Green Therapy in Israel's Negev Desert: How Therapeutic Gardening is
Helping Residents of Aleh Negev Grow and Thrive
By: Megan E. Turner

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) and an excellent time to showcase the amazing work and progress happening at Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitation village in Southern Israel for those with multiple, severe disabilities. Aleh Negev provides services for those who would typically be homebound and without much support in the areas of rehabilitation, recreation, education, and employment. Organizations like Aleh Negev strive to give Israel’s special needs community a much higher quality of life. 

Ale_Negev_1.jpgOne way in which Aleh Negev works towards this goal is through Green Therapy, a holistic treatment approach that uses gardening and work with nature to influence participants. They are brought to a greenhouse on the Aleh Negev campus where they are greeted with flowers, shrubs, and herbs that they will work to plant and care for. It is also a therapeutic haven where all of the senses are stimulated.

"Residents can smell the flowers, taste the plants, and feel the earth and leaves between their fingers," explains Osher Cohen, coordinator of culture and recreation at Aleh Negev. The greenhouse only uses non-toxic plants and those without seeds or pits in order to keep the environment safe for all the participants.

Since the village started using this form of therapy, staff has noted a dramatic change in the behavior of those who participate. "These are people who are usually unsettled, and we notice that they are calmer, more relaxed, and more engaged," Cohen said, noting that, for some, this type of therapy has brought their participation level from non-existent to very active. "If we don't give them a way to engage, patients’ behavior and overall well-being drastically regress," Cohen said, adding that Green Therapy answer's this need.

"The participants are very dependent on their surroundings and get assistance through the help of others," Stav Herling-Gosher, Aleh Negev'sAle_Negev_2.jpg spokeswoman, explains. "Through the Green Therapy program, they are able to see that other living things are dependent on them." Most caring individuals are generally concerned for what they've planted, if it's been watered or had enough sunlight. In the end, they are able to see and feel the results of their labor when their plants grow and thrive, much like themselves.

Aleh Negev works in partnership with Israel-based Derech HaYadiim, an organization that provides this type of therapy. "Many of the patients coming in are low-functioning, and we work with them at the most basic level. They may not know what they are doing, but we provide this humane warmth and inclusion that greatly helps," explains Ishay Zamiri, one of the group leaders at Green Therapy. "We receive them as they are and make no special requests," he continues, as he gently strokes a participant's hand with a soft leaf from one of the nearby plants. 

Sela Marom, owner and head guide of Derech HaYadiim, adds, "This type of treatment gives a lot of unconditional love–it doesn't matter who you are, the plants are still going to grow."

Green Therapy and the greenhouse in which it takes place is made possible with generous donations by Jewish National Fund (JNF). JNF is also a partner of Aleh Negev, helping with various projects, day trips, and the overall needs of the organization. 

"Cooperation is key," Cohen says, "and we can see that the locals aren't looking at us strangely like they used to when we go out for special trips. Thee general community is accepting of the residents of Aleh Negev and viewed as a part of the community. I feel that JNF's cooperation and help with integration into the larger Israeli society has greatly helped with this acceptance." 

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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