TEL AVIV, Israel
The guests were blindfolded and led in a single file into a restaurant and asked to take their seats.
“Move your hands slowly and touch the edge of your table and locate the two glasses of wine laid out,” someone said, then added, “Lift the one you think is the red wine first, then the white wine.”
The next challenge involved trying to eat with bandaged hands.
With the wine, it was easy to tell since white wine is always cold while red wine warmer. But eating with both hands bandaged is not easy, and neither is eating blindfolded.
All this was on display at a symposium in Tel Aviv organised by Access Israel, an non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps people with disability to tour the country’s many historic and religious sites.
The NGO was founded by Mr Yuval Wagner, a former pilot who escaped death narrowly in a helicopter accident 19 years ago.
This year’s event, the sixth hosted by the NGO, attracted participants from all over the world, including 12 journalists, who were hosted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Wagner’s dream was to form an organisation that would help anyone with a disability who visits Israel. The NGO also helps children who come to Israel unaccompanied settle down.
Says Mr Rani Benjamini, Project Director at Access Israel: “It is easier to learn as a kid, go to school and join the army, air force, or navy than if one were to do all that as an adult.’’
The NGO also helps injured people survive and teaches the able-bodied how to interact with people with disabilities.
Adds Mr Benjamini: “When dealing with a deaf person, one of the core rules is to establish eye contact.”
At the seminar, it was a display of the best, including wheelchairs that cannot tip over forwards or backwards. There were machines that can tell the colour of clothing as a blind person prepares to go out. You just point the laser at the fabric and it will do the rest through its speaker.
The blind can also get help with pouring water into a glass as they dine at a restaurant as a gadget will give a signal when the water reaches the right level.
There are also machines that can read hotel menus to a blind person to enable them to select what they want.
And as the waiter approaches, a gadget that can be worn on the side of the blind person’s glasses will announce the name of the waiter. For instance, it will say, “Rani, Rani” once the image is saved in its memory.
There are also machines that can recognise money. All a blind person needs to do is point a laser at the note and the machine will tell which denomination it is.
And while even the seeing sometimes have problems differentiating colours. There are glasses that allow the wearer to see clearer and sharper images in their real colours.
Besides the work being done by Access Israel, the country has made it easier for the elderly to settle down. Cities and municipalities have created places where the elderly can meet and reminisce over the “good old days”.
In a country that enjoys the fruits of modernisation, it is not unusual to find the elderly engaging in adrenaline-raising activities such as parachuting or rock climbing.
The less adventurous ones just read while others travel or serve as volunteers in various professions.
Israel is a land of contrasts, where the local culture matters a lot. There is a saying, “Haifa laughs, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv has fun.”
The country attracts close to four million visitors a year, most of them to Jerusalem, a city whose history goes back 5,000 years to the pre-Jesus Christ years.
If you visit Jerusalem, you will find guides who recite its history. You will be told: “Saul was the first king of Israelm then David took over after killing Goliath.”
Some guides will tell you that Goliath was asleep when David killed him.
They also tell of two miracles that Jesus performed in Jerusalem: healing the blind and the physically handicapped.
But they also tell of David killing all the blind as he entered Jerusalem because he had been told that if he tried to attack Israel “even the lame and blind would deal with him.”
Jews do not recognise Jesus Christ as their messiah. “In Israel, students are not taught the Book of Isaiah because Jesus is mentioned there’’, says Mr Zvi Herpas, General Manager at Tour Israel, who was our main guide.
Jerusalem has many areas that attract hordes of tourists, among them the Dome of the Rock, which is under Jordanian control, the Western Wall or “Wailing Wall’’, the Garden of Gethsemane and the area where Jesus was crucified.
Jerusalem is a city where one can find apartments that sell for $3.6 million or Sh363m.
Its residents include Jews, Muslims, Christians and Armenians. Why Armenia? Because it was the first country to convert to Christianity, and Armenian priests control some holy sites in Jerusalem.
Israel is a land of contrasts with a rich history, and where there is an NGO that strives to ensure that visitors with disabilities enjoy their visit