Atlanta Philanthropist Helps Israelis With Disabilities Experience Israel

By JD Krebs



For Atlanta philanthropist Sheryl Blechner, supporting her community is a way of life. A self-described “professional volunteer,” Blechner has donated her time, effort, and resources to support the causes that mean the most to her. She has proudly served four years as President of Temple Beth Tikvah, served on the Jewish Family and Career Services Board and the Breman Museum Board, and was Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Israel and Overseas Board.


One of the causes closest to Blechner’s heart is LOTEM: Making Israel Accessible, a Jewish National Fund-USA affiliate working to make Israel accessible to people of all ability levels.


JNF-USA’s initiative makes Israel accessible to children and adults with disabilities by creating accessible hiking trails, hands-on workshops for children of all abilities, educational nature activities in Israel, and providing accessibility training for government and private industry leaders to make Israeli museums and heritage sites accessible.


“Judaism has a lot to say about gardens and nature,” said Blechner. “Ever since I started going to Israel, I’ve been impressed by the people’s connection and commitment to nature and their land. I was impressed by the work LOTEM did.”


Blechner was first introduced to LOTEM during a philanthropic mission to Israel.


“I was Chair of the Israel Outreach Committee, and we would visit our sister region in Israel, Yokneam-Meggido, once a year to see the programs we had funded the year before, and they would always present new programs that they wanted us to fund,” said Blechner. “JNF-USA approached us and we went to visit LOTEM on one of our trips, and we all agreed that this was something we needed to support.”


Atlanta philanthropist Sheryl Blechner pictured in front of the LOTEM Atlanta Garden

Atlanta philanthropist Sheryl Blechner pictured in front of the LOTEM Atlanta Garden


Blechner’s philanthropic work with LOTEM evolved beyond the committee as she began personally supporting LOTEM projects through JNF-USA. As her first project, she funded the creation of the Atlanta Garden in LOTEM’s Emek HaShalom park, designed to provide children with disabilities a hands-on opportunity to appreciate and connect with nature.


“They bring classrooms of children with disabilities to this garden, and I think there’s so much you can learn from that,” she said. “Gardening teaches an appreciation for the food that’s in front of them. They learn the importance of work and the importance of responsibility, and to give these students an opportunity to see these lessons up close is a big deal.”


Blechner also funded a sensory path, a hiking trail accessible to individuals of all ability levels - including people in wheelchairs.


“The thing I love about it is that it’s such a great equalizer,” said Blechner. “It allows everybody to be stimulated by sight, sound, and touch, and everyone, regardless of ability, can experience nature.”


Jewish National Fund-USA – LOTEM Liaison Gaylee Schif sees the benefits of the sensory path every day.


“The sensory path is a flagship project at LOTEM and the enthusiasm of all the visitors is tremendous, with every group coming to the educational center asking to do the trail,” said Schif. “This project would never have come to fruition had it not been for Sheryl's vision and inspiration.”


A LOTEM participant experiences the magic of the sensory path

A LOTEM participant experiences the magic of the sensory path


JNF-USA Atlanta Board President Mike Levison believes Blechner’s enthusiasm for LOTEM is emblematic of the entire Atlanta community’s commitment to both individuals with disabilities and their sister cities in Israel.


“For decades, the Atlanta Jewish community has been advocating for people with special needs,” said Levison. “LOTEM’s commitment to making Israel accessible to people with disabilities resonates with our JNF-USA partners (donors), and to do so near Yokneam-Meggido, Atlanta’s partner communities in Israel, makes it all the more special for our community members.”


A Tennessee native with a background in public relations, Blechner has lived in Atlanta since 1985 and has become a stalwart of her community.


“Sheryl is a thoughtful and strategic donor who always has the best interests of others in mind,” added Levison. “Through LOTEM, Sheryl’s dedication of both the Atlanta Garden and a sensory path strengthens the connection between Atlanta, the people of Yokneam-Meggido, and LOTEM, while showcasing her understanding of nature’s unique effect on people.”


“Sheryl is very modest, but her actions speak for themselves,” added Schif. “She represents the best of humanity and human love and of our warm connection with the community in Atlanta.”


While Blechner’s initial philanthropic involvement with JNF-USA started with support for LOTEM, she has since gained an appreciation for several other JNF-USA affiliates.


“Since my involvement with JNF-USA, I’ve been educated on a lot of other important programs that JNF-USA supports,” said Blechner. “I recently donated to support Green Horizons, which I think is a fantastic program, and I specified that it goes to young adults in the Yokneam-Meggido area because I’m very committed to our sister region.”


Still, LOTEM continues to hold a special place in Blechner’s heart.


“It’s such an impressive and incredibly well-run organization,” she said. “They are normalizing a lot of people’s lives to the best of those people’s abilities, and I think that’s something we can all get behind.”


For more information, visit or contact JNF-USA Executive Director, Atlanta, Beth Gluck at / 404.236.8990 x851


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