When our Birthright trip was told we were going on an early morning hike through the Banias Falls at the start of our journey through Israel, most of us were too tired and jet lagged to get excited. That all changed as soon as we arrived to the trail and met Shmulik Zur, a man with a big wheelchair and an even bigger smile. We were told that as a group, we would be bringing Shmulik with us on our hike. This required a great deal of teamwork, organization and coordination - something that helped unite our group early on in the trip.
We began hiking the trail with Shmulik, switching off between the driver and the two supporting positions. At first it was easy, as the path was mild and flat. But once we ventured deeper into the trail, the terrain became much trickier, with stairs, rocks, branches and hills. It was our job to safely bring Shmulik through the trail, all while making sure everyone was having a good time. While this sounds hard, it was actually a total breeze, all thanks to Shmulik’s positive attitude.
He was determined to not let his injury prevent him from enjoying the outdoors like he had his entire life. This perseverance and strength is something I was not accustomed to seeing. So often people let their disabilities control their lives! Shmulik was incredibly inspiring - he smiled throughout the hike, he had funny jokes and encouraging comments, and he exclaimed, “Opa!” every time we hit a bump in the road. He showed our entire group that a good attitude and a big heart are stronger than any disability, which was incredibly heartwarming to witness.
None of this would have been possible without Paratrek: a wonderful organization that is set on making the outdoors accessible to everyone, regardless of any physical or mental disability. Spending time in nature can have a very therapeutic effect, and Paratrek broadens this effect to all people, especially those who need it the most. Shmulik had the time of his life thanks to Paratrek, and our Birthright group was incredibly touched to both give Shmulik this experience and to hear his life story. Paratrek transformed what would have been an ordinary hike into an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Brett Weingart, Birthright participant from Pittsburgh, PA, USA