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JNF Wire: Light for Everyone Chanukah at LOTEM's Emek Hashalom Farm

December 11, 2015
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
212-879-9305 x222
Light for Everyone – Chanukah at LOTEM’s Emek Hashalom Farm
      LOTEM CHanukah Pic3.jpg

On a bright Israeli winter’s day that just happens to be the second day of Chanukah, children are busy working making fresh olive oil. Modeled after the ancient presses found throughout Israel, this press, however, is subtly different. The long beam used to turn the crushing stone is exactly the right height for a person in a wheelchair. The floor is marked by rough patches of rubber to indicate to the visually impaired when they are getting close to the press. Baskets of olives at various stages of pressing are on hand to demonstrate by touch, taste, and smell how the process works.  

As the group finishes pressing their olives and claiming small bottles to take back to their school, one boy cannot contain his excitement. Smiling widely, he tells Naama, a young soldier-educator, “I have always seen olive presses and dreamed of being strong enough to turn one myself.  I just did it!”

LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible is hosting a group of children with various degrees of Cerebral Palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills. 

It is well known that Chanukah in Israel is a feast for the senses.  In every Jewish neighborhood in the country, one can find lights flickering in windows, brightly decorated sufganiyot (doughnuts), the scent of latkes frying, and the sounds of festive children’s songs. Children are on school break, and families spend time hiking and touring the country.

LOTEM Chanukah Pic1.jpgFor people with disabilities, however, Chanukah celebrations are often less than festive, with limited mobility, sensory issues, and other challenges curbing their holiday experience. One tradition in particular is rarely experienced by people with disabilities – the seasonal pressing of olives into oil, an agricultural activity that typically falls during the Chanukah season. On farms and in oil factories throughout the country, recently harvested olives are pressed for their golden oil. Many of these sites invite the general public to take part in the process with hands-on demonstrations of both modern and ancient olive presses. 

Yet very few are wheelchair accessible, and virtually none have educational programming geared toward people with mental or sensory disorders. LOTEM, a JNF-supported organization, has found a way to bring this Chanukah tradition to children and adults with special needs. At LOTEM’s ecological farm in Emek Hashalom (Valley of Peace), a unique Chanukah program is reaching individuals with visual and hearing impairments, physical, intellectual and emotional challenges, and children on the autistic spectrum.  

LOTEM CHanukah Pic2.jpgPrior to working the press, the children spent half an hour in the farm’s modest olive orchard learning about different harvest techniques and collecting olives.  Their wheelchairs and walkers moved easily along LOTEM’s accessible trails as they make their way to the olive press. 

Shining Their Own Lights

After the olive press, the group heads to the “Bakery,” where they prepare traditional pita in a mud and stone oven. Like the press, the area is designed to accommodate people with special needs, including wheelchair-height surfaces, an easy-to-open oven, and measuring cups marked in braille. While they wait for the bread to bake, LOTEM’s staff patiently helps them create traditional oil lamps out of clay. Participants also learn about the ways olive oil was used in daily life – in lamps, medicines, perfumes, and more.

Naama explains the metaphor of light to the group: “You are each a unique vessel, like the ones you have just made. Every vessel is different – some are smooth, some rough, some big, and some small. But each one is filled with pure, good things, like the oil. When you light it, it creates warmth and light that you can share with everyone.” 

As the children eat the bread they made, now drenched in fresh olive oil, it is clear that LOTEM’s special light has cast away a few shadows this Chanukah by making this special agricultural experience accessible to all. 

More on LOTEM 

During the rest of the year, LOTEM provides a variety of seasonal experiences geared toward people with special needs, including wheat harvests and bread-baking for Shavuot; stomping on grapes in Israel’s only accessible winepress; gathering spices for Havdalah bundles; and much more. For additional information about LOTEM’s programming, please contact Alisa Bodner at

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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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