Anzac Day in Israel

April 30, 2014 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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250 young Australians have participated in a two day program with the Jewish National Fund in Israel commemorating Anzac Day 2014.

KKL-JNF’s Forest and Field Center at Nes Harim in the Judean Mountains hosted a fascinating encounter between youth from Australia who are spending five months in Israel and young Israelis who at the same age had served in the Israeli army. 

At the Anzac memorial  Photo: Tania Susskind

At the Anzac memorial Photo: Tania Susskind

The 250 Australians,  from Australian branches of Zionist youth movements including B’nai Akiva, Aviv, Habonim Dror, Netzer and IBC, are in Israel as part of the Jewish Agency’s MASA program organised by the Zionist Federation of Australia. The young Aussies participated in a number of physically challenging ODT workshops, where they gained a practical understanding of leadership, dealing with emergency situations, decisiveness, self defense, and environmental sustainability. One activity, for example, included carrying “wounded” people on stretchers around the Nes Harim FFC perimeter, a journey of 4 km.  Later on, the Australians participated in a dialogue with the Israelis, some of whom were injured during their military stint, before enjoying a traditional Australian barbecue together.

Hani Desa of the KKL-JNF Youth and Education Department said that the goal of the program, which was held in the framework of Anzac Day, was to “expose the youth to programs that were established thanks to friends of JNF Australia, to help them get to know the story of the Anzacs up close, and to provide them with challenging educational activities in the topics of leadership empowerment and more.”

According to Dovi Paritzky of KKL-JNF’s Youth and Education Division, the groups had to “work as a team, show determination and function under pressure, activities that develop leadership qualities and a sense of mutual responsibility.”

Earlier in the day, the young Australians, who were divided into smaller groups, visited KKL-JNF sites in southern and central Israel, with special emphasis on projects supported by friends of JNF Australia. These included the Sha’ar Hanegev school, where JNF Australia contributed towards the construction of a green schoolyard with bomb shelters that can be reached in 15 seconds or less from any place in the school. As Dovi said, “we wanted them to be proud of what the Australian Jewish community has contributed to Israel.”

Since April 25 is Anzac Day, special emphasis was placed on ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) memorials and the Anzac Trail being developed by KKL-JNF in the south. Anzac Day commemorates the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fell fighting the Turks in Gallipoli, Beersheba and other places in the Mediterranean during World War I. In Palestine, 730 Anzac soldiers fell in the battle to conquer the Negev from the Turks.

KKL-JNF’s Anzac Trail, which was created with the help of its friends from Australia andNew Zealand, is a series of historical sites along the “Major Military Outflanking” route, a maneuver that was executed by soldiers from Australia and New Zealand during World War I.  These sites tell the heroic story of the conquest of Beersheba from the Turks by the Australian Mounted Division. Some of the group visited the KKL-JNF Anzac memorial in Nahal Assaf in the Negev, while others visited the KKL-JNF Anzac memorial near the Yarkon River. On Friday, the entire group attended a special Anzac Day memorial ceremony in Jerusalem.

“We took off a year between high school and university studies to explore the world,” said Jenna, who is from Sydney. “To be honest, I had never heard about Anzac Day at home, so it was very moving for me to learn about this special connection between my country and Israel.”

Dana, who is also from Sydney, added that for her, this trip was about learning to be independent: “We arrived in Israel on January 30, and we’ll be here until June 30. We’ve been up north and down south, working at a kibbutz, doing community work, and we’ll also be going to Poland and Prague. JNF was a part of my school experience, for example, we used to have a JNF fundraiser event called ‘Green Sunday’. This day has been very interesting, because it’s the first time I’ve actually seen what KKL-JNF does in Israel besides planting trees.”

One of those things that KKL-JNF does “besides planting trees” was the group’s next stop; the Kfar Saba biofilter, a facility for treating rainwater through biological means. This innovative technology harvests runoff from city streets, which is then purified by layers of plants, and then used for irrigation and reintroduction into the aquifer. The technology was developed in Australia by Yaron Zinger, an Israeli PhD student who was guided by water engineers from Monash University. The pilot project is located in a new neighborhood in Kfar Saba, and it was built with the help of friends of JNF Australia. “In order to deal with the water scarcity that characterizes our region, Israel has become a world leader in cutting-edge water technology,” said Tali, one of the group’s leaders. “I’m sure some of you will decide to study at Monash, so who knows, maybe you’ll be back here as part of some other future collaboration.”

Dana, Jenna and Ariella  Phot: Tania Susskind

Dana, Jenna and Ariella Photo: Tania Susskind

No day with KKL-JNF is complete without planting trees, which is just what the group did at KKL-JNF’s Nachshon tree planting center, where they were greeted by KKL-JNF forester Eran Zabadi. “Planting a tree is a very special thing to do,” Eran said, “both for you as individuals and also for the land of Israel.”

“I feel like I’m closing a circle,” saidAriella, who is from Sydney. “A tree was planted for me at the time of my Bat Mitzvah, and now I’m planting one in Israel for the first time.”

Tara from Melbourne said that at school, they had participated in a number of KKL-JNF activities, “but by planting a tree here, I feel personally involved. It also reminds of something very special – my great aunt passed away recently, and in her will, she asked that ten trees be planted in Israel in her memory. And now I’m here doing that myself!”

Josh summed up the day in particular and his trip to Israel in general. “Being in Israel is a very special experience for me. I grew up in a country where everything shuts down during the Christian holidays. Here, you can really feel the Jewish holidays in the street, and Judaism is more of an innate feeling. As a result of my visit and the fascinating day we’ve had with KKL-JNF, I feel that my connection to Israel has become stronger and more self-evident to me.”

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