Hollywood, Horses, and Israel
William and Elizabeth Shatner Launch Initiative with JNF to Help the Disabled
Contact: Jodi Bodner • JNF Director of Communications• 212-879-9305 ext. 221• firstname.lastname@example.org
June 1, 2006 -- New York -- Hollywood star William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain James T. Kirk, a.k.a. Denny Crane, just returned from a trip to Israel where he spent a week assessing the needs of therapeutic riding centers across the country. He was there with his wife, Elizabeth, as he took on the role of celebrity spokesperson for The William and Elizabeth Shatner/Jewish National Fund Therapeutic Riding Consortium Endowment for Israel -- a $10 million campaign.
Interspersed with visits to historic sites, the Shatners visited four centers across the country, were impressed by what they saw and moved by the people they met.
At TRCI, Therapeutic Riding Center of Israel, located just outside of Netanya they met Erez Ziv who was an officer in the IDF when he was hit by a car, lost the use of his legs and sustained head injuries. Today, 15 years later, as a result of the therapy, he rides comfortably and is able to communicate.
“After the accident, I couldn’t do anything,” said Ziv. “Today, I can do any kind of activity and I can do it alone.” Erez and his father discovered riding therapy after extensive research into what would bring him the greatest results. They chose well.
“This is what the riding therapy has done for me,” said Ziv. “I have control of me. I can stay on the horse, and I have self-confidence. I do things that I never thought I could do….I love dancing! This is not just a benefit of the riding…it is a miracle.”
Ziv is married with a young child and said he especially enjoys wheelchair dancing with his wife.
Deeply involved in therapeutic riding here in the States for the past 15 years, Shatner’s partnership with JNF began over lunch at Factor’s Deli in Los Angeles with his friend, Marvin Markowitz. The two shared a dream about helping children who are physically and mentally challenged with riding therapy. “We dreamed of a program that would be available to all communities in Israel -- Jewish, Arab, Bedouin, and Druse -- and perhaps in the future, reach across the border to Jordan,” said Shatner.
Markowitz, a member of JNF's executive committee, knew just who to turn to to make this dream happen. JNF has a longstanding relationship with the Red Mountain Riding Center at Kibbutz Grofit in the Negev, having helped them clear lands and build facilities. The riding consortium also dovetails with JNF's other work for Israel's disabled community -- its campaign to make all parks inclusive to all and its partnership with the Aleh Foundation in building a residential rehabilitation center in the Negev.
“Seeing the work that is done at TRCI is like seeing a fantasy become reality,” said Shatner. “Children and adults from all over are being treated and the results speak for themselves. The smile on the child’s face when she/he gets on the horse, the ability they have to communicate with the horse, to sit straight and have control of the horse, gives the child a new kind of confidence! We hope that raising money for these riding centers in Israel through Jewish National Fund will allow more people to benefit from this therapy and open the door for new dialogue.”
Giving out graduation medals at INTRA, Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association, Shatner said: “This is a symbol for all horse lovers. You are brave kids and this ribbon represents something that we have in common -- a love for horses.”
While in Israel the Shatners saw JNF forests, the Alexander River Reclamation project (a joint project between JNF, the Israel Ministry of the Environment, and local Palestinians), new suspension bridges in the Carmel Forest and several JNF reservoirs.
Said Shatner: “JNF’s attention to the water shortage is amazing. We had no idea. I have seen so many JNF forests and reservoirs that from now on I will not even look at a reservoir that is not JNF.”
A stop at a dressage competition showcased the successes of therapeutic riding. Shatner met with Omer Ben Dor, who became a paraplegic in 1994 at age 24 owing to a car accident.
“I was a competitive swimmer before the accident and wanted to stay in sports,” explained Omer. "I started therapeutic riding which led to a competitive circuit and I competed in the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004. I’m hoping to go to the next Olympics.”
At the HaEmek Riding Center in Afula, the Shatners saw eight children from a school for the mentally challenged take a class. They also met with the director and students at length.
On Monday, May 29, at a press conference in the King David hotel in Jerusalem, the Shatners launched the initiative officially.
“In addition to healing the minds and bodies of the people in the therapeutic riding program, we also seek in a small, tiny way, to heal the nations of the area,” he said. "We need help from every corner, from Israel and the world, especially America—that’s what we’re about. I learned these words here: 'Sussim osim nissim -- horses do miracles.'"
In the Negev, the Shatners paid a visit to the RedMountain Riding Center in Kibbutz Grofit.
There, Shatner spoke to a 32-year-old blind womanm blind since birth, who is looking to raise 100,000 shekels to research and write a book on how people who have disabilities can "see" Israel. Elizabeth walked inside the ring with the trainers, one on each side of the child. Over snacks, a girl named Avdah with Cerebral Palsy sang a song and asked William to dance with her. He did.
The Shatners left inspired, moved and motivated by these kids. A stop at the Arava Institute got them a meeting with students from Jordan, Israel, Oregon, and with Palestinians, where they mainly talked about "getting along" and how they can start the dialogue to make peace.
Captions: Top: At HaEmek Riding Center in Afula. Photo Credit: Alon Levi.
Second: At the dressage competition with Omer Ben Dror on the horse and his coach, Dror Ben Shaul. Photo Credit: Alon Levi.
Third: At the press conference in Jersualem with Sherri Morr, JNF's Western Zone Director. Photo credit: Alon Levi.
Bottom: At Red Mountain Riding Center at Kibbutz Grofit. Photo Credit: Sebastian Cabot.
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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 www.jnf.org.