The Gushing Pond at the Rosh Tzippor Bird Park in Ramat Gan was dedicated in honor of Robert Schneider, former CEO of JNF Australia in the presence of many dignitaries, colleagues, family, and friends.
Bird Head Park
Among the guests were former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, World Zionist Organization Chairman Avraham Duvdevani, Former KKL-JNF Chairman Yehiel Leket, JNF Australia President Peter Smaller, and the heads of several regional councils from around the country. Family members arrived from Israel, Australia, the United States, South Africa and Lithuania. It was abundantly clear from the hugs and smiles that Rob, as he is known, is loved and respected by many.
The Gushing Pond is a mini waterfall and pool situated on the water supply route for the large man-made lake on the site. The Rosh Tzippor Birdwatching Centre, which was opened just a few months ago, is situated in the middle of Israel’s densely populated Dan region and has already become an attraction for residents of the area. Much of the funding for the creation of the park was donated by friends of JNF Australia.
The dedication ceremony was hosted by Former KKL-JNF Fundraising Director Zeev Kedem, who described Rob as a tireless leader of JNF Australia, where he served as CEO from 2000 to 2013. He said that Rob was responsible for the creation of many JNF Australia-funded projects in Israel.
“The two passions of Rob’s life came together at JNF, and those are his love of Israel and his love of nature. To understand who Rob is, you must know that he has served on the boards of a multitude of nature-orientated and Israel affiliated organisations in South Africa, where he grew up, and later in Australia, where he lives today.”
The plaque that was unveiled was inscribed with the words: “The Gushing Pond at Rosh Tzippor in Honour of Robert Schneider, Chief Executive Jewish National Fund of Australia (2000-2013).
A lover of the land, the people, and the nature of Israel. A builder of bridges, and a prime mover for the establishment of the Rosh Tzippor Bird Observatory, and other vital projects throughout Israel.”
Rob Schneider and Peter Smaller
President of JNF Australia Peter Smaller said that this was a great opportunity to honor Rob and his wife Suzy, who have both given lifelong work to Israel through JNF.
“Rosh Tzippor would not have happened without Rob’s vision and tenacity. The park we are sitting in is a miracle. Thank you on behalf of JNF Australia for the tremendous work you did in Israel.”
Chairman of the World Zionist Organization Avraham Duvdevani, who was KKL-JNF World Co-Chairman during the time that Rob served as leader of JNF Australia, said that he was thrilled to receive the invitation to attend the event.
“I worked with Rob for 4 years and got to know him well. Even then he always wore a T-shirt with the picture of some endangered animal. I say here without hesitation that I have never met another person with the same level of drive and commitment to the goals of JNF than I found in Rob.”
Former Head of the Central Arava Regional Council Ezra Ravins said that the presence of so many mayors and heads of local councils at the event bears witness to the great amount of work that Rob initiated throughout Israel during his tenure.
“He not only supported projects in their areas, he also became personally friendly with them and intimately followed the progress of the work done. It is no wonder that Rob is so close to many of the country’s leaders.”
Professor Alon Tal, Head of the Department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University and former KKL-JNF Board member, told the audience that it he was his first time leaving a class early in order to honor somebody.
“In this case, there was no question that I had to be here. I first met Rob in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. I realized immediately that I was talking to a true environmentalist, someone who was involved in conservation, and who knew more about African eco systems than anyone I had ever met. Moreover, he was interested in helping make Israel a healthier, more environmental country. The friendship that emerged between us is unique.”
Newly appointed KKL-JNF Director of Tourism Shlomo Ben-Haim, recently returned from a 15 year sojourn in Australia where he served as KKL-JNF emissary, compared Rob to the biblical Abraham, who featured in recent weekly Torah readings.
“Abraham, like Rob, can be considered a JNF activist because he bought land in Israel when he wanted a place for the tomb of Sarah; he dug for water in Beer Sheva; and he planted a tamarisk tree. I think that you, Rob, should now continue in the footsteps of Abraham and move to Israel.”
Ornithologist Professor Yossi Leshem, the director of Israel’s International Center for the Study of Bird Migration, is the person who first suggested creating a bird park in the Rosh Tzippor Forest on the Yarkon River. Leshem said that he became friends with Rob after they met at an international wildlife conference some 20 years ago.
Mandy Merkel, Suzy and Rob Schneider, Gavriel Schneider
“Rob became the leader of JNF Australia some 3 years after the Maccabiah Bridge collapse, which killed four Australian athletes and injured 60 when they fell into the contaminated Yarkon River. I believe that much of Rob’s motivation to create Rosh Tzippor Park on the Yarkon stems from emotions evoked by that tragedy.”
Speaking on behalf of the family, Dr. Gavriel Schneider, Rob’s son, thanked the guests for coming to honor his father.
“JNF was another family member that we learned to grow up with. Dad worked 16 hours a day because he woke up each morning in Australia but he lived according to Israel time, which is 10 hours later. We begged him to take on an assistant to help out, as there was no shortage of funds in the organization. However, he refused because he believed that every cent collected was for Israel.”
84-year-old Alfred “Boydie” Turner, an Australian of Aboriginal decent, whom Robert invited to the ceremony in order to pay tribute to Alfred’s grandfather William Cooper. In a little known episode that took place in 1938, just weeks after Kristallnacht, Cooper, who was then a leader of the Australian Aboriginal community, delivered a stern letter of protest to the German Consul General in Melbourne, condemning the Nazi treatment of the Jews.
“My grandfather walked 11 km at age of 77 to present the protest to the German consul. When Rob heard the story he traveled over 1000 miles to see the grave of my grandfather in an Aboriginal settlement. I want to thank Rob and Suzy for helping us to visit Israel.”
Responding to all the good wishes and visibly touched by all he heard, Rob put a kippa on his head and recited the Shehecheyanu blessing, which is said by Jews to celebrate special occasions.
“A lot has been said today about how much we do in Australia to support Israel. I must add that Jews in Australia hold their heads high in pride because of you here in Israel. You support us more than we support you. We have to thank you.”
Twice during the ceremony, guests were treated to a musical performance by trumpet virtuoso Arik Davidov. One of his pieces was performed on an enormous shofar (ram’s horn).
The event ended with a tour of the park by KKL-JNF Chief Ornithologist Yaron Charka, who said that staff at the site are getting ready for the park to start operating fully in the beginning of 2018.
“Schools around the country as well as the army are planning to bring tours here. We will supply the educational content. The site is new for the birds too. I can tell you that they are showing strong interest. Just this morning I counted over 40 different species in the water and on the trees.”