Australian teens plant trees in Israel
On a brilliantly sunny winter’s day 90 Australian teens participating in a five-month “Israel by Choice” programme, gathered on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem to celebrate Tu B’Shevat – the New Year of Trees.
Having arrived from “down under” only two days previously and still shaking off the after effects of a long flight these young gap year students were nevertheless full of enthusiasm and energy. Hailing from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, their first full week in Israel, commenced on Sunday with an introduction to the work of the Keren Kayemet Le’Israel-Jewish National Fund. As Tu B’Shevat this year occurs on Shabbat the week preceding this date is full of activities throughout the country.
Sitting on Mount Herzl opposite Theodore Herzl’s grave and surrounded by large trees, they listened to Noam Tamir, tour guide for the KKL-JNF Youth & Education Department, as he outlined the history of the site and the major contribution which the KKL- JNF has made to the ecological development of Israel. From a country denuded of trees and starved of water, he explained how today Israel was self-sufficient and has planted more trees than any other country in the world.
A short walk along tree-shaded paths led to the Grove of Nations site where a ceremony was organised to start the Tu B’Shevat tree planting. The Chief of Protocol for KKL-JNF, Andy Michelson (ex-Caulfield, Melbourne) welcomed the Australian participants as well as pupils from a local elementary school. Distinguished guests included the Deputy Minister of Defence, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and the KKL-JNF World Chairman all of whom stressed the vital role which forestation and conservation play in the development of the country. Mr. Danny Atar, KKL-JNF World Chairman, explained how Tu B’Shevat unites Jews all over the world and how planting trees today benefits future generations. Planting trees in Jerusalem also sends a strong answer to UNESCO and others who wish to delegitimize the Jewish connection to the Capital.
After a tree planting prayer in Ivrit by the Deputy Defense Minister, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, and an English version recited by a Perth member of the group, everyone was invited to take a sapling and plant it in the soil of Jerusalem.
The next part of the day’s programme consisted of tree planting in the Jerusalem hills.
Without a doubt all the Australian teens benefited from their hands on experience and acquired a deeper appreciation of the work being undertaken by KKL-JNF.