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The magic chair
By Gaylee Schif
Feb 23, 2014 By Jewish National Fund Category: Special Needs,
Marathon man on a roll
Photo: Anne Taillandier
Reprinted from the Jerusalem Post by Abigail Klein Leichman
Then she added, “You have two choices: If you want, you can join Eden. If you want, you can live.”
Raz chose to live. And on March 21, a day after his 20th birthday, he will lead a group determined to finish the 800-meter accessible route in the Jerusalem Marathon, to raise funds and awareness for LOTEM, the 20-year-old nonprofit that has become entwined in the lives of the Rutman family.
They’ll be participating as part of a larger team under the banner of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, which has partnered with LOTEM for the past eight years to build accessible hiking trails and guide some 30,000 Israelis a year with physical, communication and intellectual challenges, hearing and vision impairments, who have an opportunity to experience the outdoors.
Other KKL-JNF partners, including farmers from the community of Halutza in the Negev and firefighters, will be running as part of this team.
The Rutmans live in the Galilee moshava of Yokne’am, close to LOTEM’s headquarters on the edge of the Nahal Hashofet Nature Park. Until the car crash that left him partially paralyzed and on a ventilator, Raz Rutman often roamed through the park with his buddies.
“Before the accident, I loved to travel and to hike,” he says. “When I came back from two years at Alyn Orthopedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, I couldn’t do it because the trail wasn’t accessible with a wheelchair.”
LOTEM learned of his disappointment through its soldier-guides and national service volunteers, who had been coming to the Rutmans daily to help out after the tragedy.
“The girls of LOTEM came every day from the moment we got back home,” relates Esther Rutman, who was also hurt in the accident along with three-year-old Yonatan. Her husband, Moshe, mostly stayed in the hospital with Raz, while Esther cared for Yonatan. When she gave birth a year later to Ariel, the LOTEM volunteers pitched in with both little boys.
“When Raz came home, they used to sit and help him with homework,” she says. “They did the writing for him because he was right-handed and now can only use his left. All these girls have a special place in our heart – they became part of our family.”
And they are largely responsible for motivating the KKL-JNF and other funders to raise about $1 million for LOTEM to build the first fully accessible circular hiking trail in Israel, in Nahal Hashofet.
“We made the park inclusive for people in wheelchairs and people who are blind, and Raz was able to come back to his favorite nature spot,” says KKL-JNF-LOTEM liaison Alisa Bodner.
“It gave me such a feeling of happiness and excitement that I could finally be in the place I always loved to be,” Rutman says. “I love Nahal Hashofet now as much as I did 11 years ago.”