On Friday, 26 May 2017, the 7th annual Eran March for Disability Inclusion was held in Gedera, with the participation of residents of ALEH Moriah in Gedera and ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, representatives of the Access Israel organization, and some 1,500 ninth-grade students from Gedera and the surrounding area. The purpose of the march is to raise awareness of the needs of people with disabilities, and to promote inclusion and understanding that they are, first and foremost, people, with the same rights as all of us, and only after that, to consider their disabilities. As one participant in a wheelchair said, “You have to remember that we are people, with disabilities, but firstly we are regular people who want to live life like everyone else.”

The march is also known as “Eran’s March,” named after the late son of Maj. Gen. (Reserves) Doron Almog, Chairman of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran. Maj. Gen. Almog also participated in the march, along with Rani Benjamini, co-founder of Access Israel, Yoel Gamliel, Mayor of Gedera, and members of ALEH’s directorial staff. During the march, participants without disabilities tried marching using wheelchairs, or blindfolded, or using a cane – having an experience of what it really means to live with disabilities. They also marched alongside ALEH’s residents.

Ofir Ben-Gershon, a ninth-grade student who participated in the march, explained what a life-changing experience it had been for her to meet ALEH’s residents. “It was very moving for me to see a person who has great difficulty doing things that I wouldn’t have believed possible… We may have challenges in our lives, but there are people who have much more difficulty, and they are happy.”

Nofar Mor Haim, a student from Ashdod, explained how meeting people with disabilities had convinced her that they were people like everyone else, and that is how they want to be seen. “My life has changed completely,” she said. “Wherever I go, I always check whether the place is accessible.”

Israel Prize Laureate Maj. Gen. Almog explained that his son, Eran z”l, after whom the march and the Negev rehabilitative village are named, had been his greatest teacher and his inspiration to put people with disabilities at the center of society’s priorities. He hopes to see such marches taking place in additional cities in coming years, and for ALEH’s Tikkun Olam program, which promotes inclusion, to grow to include tens of thousands of students. Rani Benjamini, Co-Founder of Access Israel, had a similar message, emphasizing that people with disabilities can be the impetus for us to create a better, more accepting society.

Yoel Gamlieli, Mayor of Gedera, expressed his pride that inclusion is a day-to-day reality in the city. “Only through inclusion can we educate our children towards tolerance and values that will help them be leaders in Israeli society.”