Australian initiative cleans up Israel

September 11, 2013 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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Volunteers from 250 localities took part in this year’s International Cleanup Day, an event that KKL-JNF has orchestrated in Israel for the past thirteen years.

L-R: MP Amir Peretz, Efi Stenzler, Haim Bibas and Luke Davies present certificates of participation to schoolchildren. Photo: Yoav Devir

L-R: MP Amir Peretz, Efi Stenzler, Haim Bibas and Luke Davies present certificates of participation to schoolchildren. Photo: Yoav Devir

Community members of all ages, religions and walks of Israeli life took part in this year’s Cleanup Day, which was held with the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends in the USA. The main event, which took place in Ben Shemen Forest, opened with a grand cleanup campaign carried out with the help of some 350 youngsters from primary schools in the city of Modiin. Other major cleanup events were held in Nesher Park in the north and in Lahav Forest and Sderot in southern Israel.

“Litter is not a fate imposed upon us by the decree of a higher power,” KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler informed schoolchildren at the ceremony held in Ben Shemen Forest. “Today is the day when we raise our awareness of the need to keep the environment clean. By respecting the environment we also show our respect for other people, and we all want our country to be clean and beautiful.”

The World Chairman’s words appeared to have the desired effect, and hundreds of children deployed themselves in every nook and cranny as they picked up litter and collected it in large garbage bags, leaving swathes of beautifully clean ground behind them.

“We’ve come to clean up the forest, so that it’ll be fun to walk around here,” explained eleven-year-old Alma Kalifa. Her classmate Uri Shohat was excited to be taking part in a project shared by other children all over the world. “It’s a really special feeling to know that children in so many different places are also setting out to clean up their environment, each in his own country,” he said.

And, indeed, International Cleanup Day is held in 130 different countries with the help of some 35 million volunteers worldwide. This year Israel is the first country to celebrate this special event, as for the rest of the world Cleanup Day will fall between September 20th and 22nd, while Israelis are busy celebrating the Sukkoth holiday. Crowds of visitors are expected to throng the forests over the holiday, and now, thanks to the Cleanup volunteers, they will be welcomed by fresh green, clean woodland.

Alma Kalifa, Uri Shohat and Inbal Ben Ami clean with their friends. Photo: Yoav Devir

Alma Kalifa, Uri Shohat and Inbal Ben Ami clean with their friends. Photo: Yoav Devir

KKL-JNF supplied the Cleanup campaign participants with plastic bags in a variety of colors, to help them separate the litter and bag it appropriately: paper in brown bags, plastic in blue ones, organic waste in green ones – while everything else went into the white bags. The organizers seized this opportunity to remind the volunteers how important it is to separate rubbish at home, too, so that it can be recycled.

Twelve-year-old Inbal Ben Ami was fully aware of the importance of conserving the environment and keeping it clean, and she promised to pass this important message on to her parents: “We’ll tell them how important it is not to drop litter, so that our world will be clean and beautiful,” she said.

Apart from helping to clean up, the children also enjoyed activities organized by instructors from KKL-JNF’s Education and Youth Division, who provided games and quizzes on topics related to geography, environmental conservation and familiarity with KKL-JNF activities.

The Cleanup Day closing ceremony was held adjacent to the cleanup site in Ben Shemen Forest’s Biqat HaNezirim (Monks’ Gully). Among those present were KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, Israel’s Minister for Environmental Protection Amir Peretz, Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Israel Luke Davies, and popular actor and TV host Ron Shahar. Children’s TV star Tal Mosseri presided over the ceremony. The Children’s Television Channel had been filming some of the day’s cleanup activities for a special program on the subject – arousing great excitement among the children – and this publicity will no doubt help to spread the day’s important message to other youngsters throughout Israel.

The ceremony was opened by Mayor Bibas, who told those present: “We do our very best to conserve the forest, with the help of the amazing cooperation we receive from KKL-JNF. Every year we plant large numbers of trees in order to promote this green belt for the benefit of local residents.”

International Cleanup Day had its inception in Australia in 1989 and since then it has drawn the rest of the world along in its wake. “I’m proud of my country’s role in this event,” said the Australian Deputy Head of Mission. “This is an important day for raising people’s awareness of the importance of conserving the environment and keeping it clean.”

Environmental Minister Peretz emphasized the central role of the young generation. “It is the children’s right to ask – nay, to demand – that the adults take care of the environment, because if it is damaged in any way it is their future that will be placed at risk,” he said.

At the conclusion of the ceremony Efi Stenzler led the children in a declaration of intent to keep the country clean. “We hereby undertake to keep our town, all its open spaces and its forests clean,” declared the children. The spotless woodland they left behind them on Cleanup Day is proof of the impressive volunteering spirit that lies behind these fine words.

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