Green Sunday – Aussies plant in Israel

February 14, 2013 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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Members of Australian youth movements,  currently in Israel for a year of volunteer activity, have taken part in a day of tree planting and touring of projects implemented by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund. 

The event was held on ‘Green Sunday’ – a fundraising event held by JNF Australia for environmental projects in Israel.  This year, money was raised for desert afforestation.

Group photo. Photo: Yoav Devir

Group photo. Photo: Yoav Devir

Taking part in the event were hundreds of high school graduates from various youth movements:  Beitar, Bnei Akiva, Hashomer Hatzair, Habonim Dror, Hineni and Netzer.  The day commenced with a tree planting ceremony in the Ramot Forest near Beer Sheba.  The forest is part of the green belt that KKL-JNF is developing that will surround the city, with the support of KKL-JNF in Australia and around the world.  The city will be encircled by 6,000 acres of forest and leisure sites, for the benefit of the environment and the city’s residents, tourists and visitors from Israel and around the world.

Before the ceremony, the teenagers who are currently visiting Israel spoke to their friends who volunteered at the Green Sunday event in Sydney and Melbourne via Skype.  They described their experiences in Israel with great excitement, and received news from home.  The entire ceremony was broadcast live in Australia, so that even those who could not be present at the Israeli event could share in the experience.

Planting at Ramot Forest. Yoav Devir

Planting at Ramot Forest. Yoav Devir

Gael Grunewald, Vice Chairman of KKL-JNF, noted that the tree planting symbolized the connection between the past and the present.  “Today, you are creating a direct connection with Abraham our forefather, who also planted a tree in Beer Sheba.  JNF in Australia and New Zealand have contributed a great deal to the development of the Negev.  Together with you, we will continue to build the country.”

The ceremony was hosted by KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol and Ceremonies and native Australian Andy Michelson.  He noted that the encounter with the teenagers reminded himself of his youth.  Michelson pointed to the homes of Beer Sheba overlooking the Ramot Forest, and said:  “The development of Beer Sheba and the Negev is an example of what we are capable of achieving when we all work together.  Just like Australia, KKL-JNF is celebrating its 111th anniversary.  Over the years, KKL-JNF has always known how to adapt itself to the changing needs of the country – from the purchasing of land and establishing towns, to the planting of forests,advanced agricultural development, water sources, tourist and educational projects and concern for the environment.”

Speaking to counterparts at Green Sunday in Australia on Skype. Photo: Yoav Devir

Speaking to counterparts at Green Sunday in Australia on Skype. Photo: Yoav Devir

Beer Sheba representative, Arnon Cohen, warmly thanked the KKL-JNF representatives for their assistance in the development of the city and the entire region.  Speaking to the teenagers, he said:  “Now you have another reason to come back here to visit, because you have a tree waiting for you in Beer Sheba.”

Reuben Bolaffi, from the Australian Zionist Youth Council, mentioned how in his childhood, there was a blue box in his parent’s house:  “Many of the young people present here grew up with blue boxes in their homes; and today, we have witnessed what KKL-JNF really does, and how it helps Israel grow and flourish.  In Australia, we sold trees on Green Sunday, in order to raise funds, but today we planted a tree in the land of Israel with our own hands.”

For 18-year old Caley Segal of Sydney, this was the first visit to Israel.  “After only six days, I still have a lot to learn, but I fell in love with Israel immediately.  I already know that I want to make Aliyah in the future.”

After the conclusion of the tree planting ceremony, everyone continued on to Beer Sheba River Park, a project supported by friends of KKL-JNF from around the world, including Australia, theU.S., Canada and Germany.  Before hearing a report on the project, the youth started dancing spontaneously in the parking lot.

Itai Freeman, Park Project Manager, explained that the venue serves the residents of Beer Sheba and the entire Negev region.  The park spans an area of 1,100 acres and continues 8 kilometers along the banks of the Beer Sheba River.  The combination of leisure sites and historical/archeological sites creates a unique experience for visitors.  In the past, the place was a neglected spot.  Wastewater flowed and garbage was dumped into the river.  About ten years ago, a decision was made to rehabilitate the river and transform it from an environmental hazard into an attractive tourist park. The park currently features open spaces, picnic areas, attractions, boardwalks and historical sites, which tell the story of the city’s history over the years.  The large boardwalk spans an area of 250 dunams and includes groves, lawns and a playground for children.  Musical and artistic performances are held at the sites, as well as fairs and events for the entire family.

In the eastern portion of the park, KKL-JNF reconstructed the Eshel House, an agricultural farm that was established in 1943, in order to explore the possibility of living and working the land under difficult desert climate conditions.

The development plans include the construction of a 12,000-seat amphitheater, an artificial lake, a 90-dunam leisure site, and access roads to the park.  Restaurants and cafes will be built around the lake, as well as pedestrian and cycling paths and groves with picnic areas.  All of the Beer Sheba River Park’s water, including the lake, will be purified wastewater, from reservoirs built by KKL-JNF.

From the park, one can see the plain where the battle for Beer Sheba was waged with the Turks by a battalion of Australian cavalry regiment during World War I.  Currently, KKL-JNF is working on the ANZAC Trail – a series of historical sites along the route of the flank attack on Beersheba by Australian and New Zealand soldiers.  These sites commemorate the heroism demonstrated by the Australian Light Horse Brigade during Beersheba’s capture.

Following the visit to Beer Sheba River Park, the teenagers split up into a number of groups, which visited various projects established with the support of JNF Australia:  The scenic look-out at Kibbutz Kramim; the playground and water reservoir at Kibbutz Shomriya; and the water reservoir and environmental development at the Cochin Jewish Heritage Center on Moshav Nevatim.

Kramim: Tourism and Ecology in the Desert

In Kramim, the guests met with new Kibbutz member, Yonatan Rolnik and long-time kibbutz member, Gugi Yitzchaki, who moved to Israel from Melbourne 30 years ago, after arriving in Israel for her first visit at age 21.

“I believe that for these young people, a visit to Israel can serve as a defining experience, which will change their lives,” said Yitzchaki.  “There is no doubt that some of them will decide to move to Israel.  Speaking with them sparked memories from the time I was their age.”

Rolnik spoke about life on the kibbutz, which currently is home to 50 families, some secular and some religious.  New neighbourhoods are under construction in order to absorb more residents.

Singing Hatikvah

Singing Hatikvah

At the scenic lookout on the edge of the kibbutz, built with the support of the Hendler family and friends of JNF Australia, the youth heard about the history of the Negev and the kibbutz.  They looked over the area and saw just how close the green line is and realized just how small the State of Israel is.

They made their way back from the scenic lookout along the path where the kibbutz is currently developing an ecological trail, thanks to the contribution of Anna Berger and friends of JNF Australia.  The 800-meter trail will traverse the natural route of the Kramim River and will include a system for collecting rainwater, gardens with desert and medicinal plants and sitting areas.

“The project will contribute to tourism, and will also serve the residents of the kibbutz,” explained Rolnik.  The trail ends at the workshop center, where the members of the Australian group participated in an activity on the subject of medicinal plants.  They discovered that they don’t have to run to the pharmacy every time they get a cold or have a headache, because traditional natural medicines can sometimes be beneficial to their health.

The group members observed the green basins from afar.  These basins were also built thanks to the contribution of Anna Berger and of JNF Australia.  This is a system of artificial swamps, which imitate the purification process that takes place in natural swamps.  They filter organic materials, floating solids and heavy metals from the wastewater.

Israeli dancing

Israeli dancing

The water flows through the roots of plants growing in the basin.  The plants develop dense roots, upon which a population of microorganisms develops, which helps to break down the organic contaminants.  The byproducts of this process are absorbed by the plants and facilitate the plant development.  The purification also includes physical processes: including slowing down the water flow that causes the floating solids to sink.  The reactions between the different contaminant particles cause the sedimentation of the insoluble materials.

17-year old Sam Meyerson from Melbourne noted that it was interesting to meet a community that lives in the heart of the desert out of concern for the environment and also to see how green the Negev is.  “After just a few days, I still can’t say that I know Israel, but I hope that by the end of the journey, I will be familiar with the different aspects of the country,” she said.

Shomriya: A Matter of Faith

The visit to Kibbutz Shomria took all of the members back to their childhood days, when visiting the playground that was built thanks to the donation made by Leon and Andzia Wakdman and friends of JNF Australia.  The youth enjoyed the slides, swings and other playground materials.

From the playground, they observed the kibbutz’s newwastewater purification site, which was built with the support of the friends of JNF Australia.  It features 7 oxidation pools, including a treated wastewater reservoir which contains 60,000 cubic meters of water.  In addition, two sedimentation pools were built, where the wastewater is stored.  From there the water flows by gravitation to 4 smaller pools and subsequently to a large reservoir.  The modern institute not only offers a suitable sanitation solution, but also enables the optimal use of the water for agriculture.

Learning herb medicine

Learning herb medicine

Two additional KKL-JNF projects at the kibbutz include an elementary school for girls and boys (donated by JNF UK) and playground and sports facilities at the school (donated by JNF USA).

Kibbutz member, Dudu Reich, spoke about the special kibbutz, which was reestablished by the displaced residents of Gush Katif, after having been almost abandoned by its earlier members.  Today, over 100 families live on the kibbutz, a total of 800 people.  The goal is to expand to 2,000 residents.

 

“Our main goals,” said Reich, “Are to build a large strong community, to plant fruit trees, and to continue to build the country for people with different beliefs.  We still have a long road ahead of us, but we are moving in the right direction.”

Twice during the conversations, the young visitors displayed particular interest:  When Reich mentioned that he had 11 children, everyone broke into applause.  When he explained that on the religious Kibbutz Shomriya there were no televisions, they were amazed.  Someone asked:  “How does a family of 11 children survive without a television in the house?”

Group member, Ronnia Distiller from Melbourne summarized the day:  “In previous years, I helped fundraise on Green Sunday by making telephone calls.  Today, I have seen some of the projects with my own eyes, which has brought me a great deal of satisfaction.”

These are just their first few days in Israel, and there is no doubt, that in the coming year, additional youth delegations will visit interesting places, hear fascinating stories and will be introduced to special personalities and share many experiences together.

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