Amid Israel’s mountains and valleys, deserts and lush farms, and miracles great and small is the Atlanta Garden.

Located in northern Israel in Emek HaShalom, the garden is on the ecological farm of LOTEM — Making Nature Accessible, which provides accessible hikes and educational nature activities around the country to children and adults with special needs.

This special plot of land is a gift from East Cobb resident Sheryl Blechner and is designed to give children with special needs and disabilities a hands-on opportunity to appreciate and connect with nature.

“It has been my good fortune to make many trips to Israel, and with each visit I make, I have had amazing personal experiences with both individuals and various programs,” Blechner said. “However, LOTEM remains one of the highlights of all my visits, and the Atlanta Garden program will impact generations of children and adults to come.”

LOTEM has been a Jewish National Fund partner organization for more than a decade, said Beth Gluck, JNF Atlanta executive director. “We are thrilled that Sheryl selected LOTEM as the site for this new garden and view this as an incredibly meaningful and personal way for her voice to be heard in Israel. JNF donors like Sheryl trust us to represent them in Israel, and in return they empower us to continue our important work.”

Through JNF’s $1 billion “Roadmap for the Next Decade,” contributions from across the United States will facilitate the development of a strong, secure, productive, high quality of life in Israel’s periphery: the desert in the south and the open country in the north. 

That $1 billion plan continues 116 years of JNF work in the land of Israel, including planting more than 250 million trees, building more than 250 reservoirs and dams, developing over 250,000 acres, creating more than 2,000 parks, and providing the infrastructure for more than 1,000 communities.

Gluck can be reached at 404-236-8990 or BGluck@JNf.org if you want to follow Blechner’s philanthropic example.

Blechner said her first guide at LOTEM was Raz Rutman, a young man from Jewish Atlanta’s partner area of Yokneam who suffered a traumatic injury in a car accident at the age of 8 that left him in a wheelchair. Not one to allow the circumstances to define him, Rutman early on worked with LOTEM to gain the skills and the means to get back to nature, and he hasn’t stopped.

When Blechner met Rutman, he was serving as a LOTEM guide to fulfill his two years of national service, an alternative to serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Today, Rutman still works as a guide to continue to give back, and he is sought after for his knowledge, ability and motivational personality.