Holocaust Survivors in Israel Spend a Day with the JNF

October 17, 2013 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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Over 400 people from Amcha centers in northern, central and southern Israel have spent a day on an ecological tour of KKL-JNF sites, including Alexander River Park, the Ilanot tree arboretum, KKL-JNF water reservoir and Herzl House in Hulda Forest…gifted by JNF Melbourne.

The buses, guides, refreshments and concert at the end of the day were all a gift of friends of KKL-JNF from Melbourne, Australia, and in light of the outing’s tremendous success, KKL-JNF hopes to receive support for similar days from its friends in the future.

Enjoying the day    All pix: Tania Susskind

Enjoying the day All pix: Tania Susskind

“The people in our centers very much enjoy touring the country. The fact that a day like this is sponsored by KKL-JNF is extremely meaningful for them, because they experience it as recognition by society of what they went through in the past.” Anat Turner, deputy executive director of the Amcha center in northern Israel, was speaking at Alexander River Park on Wednesday, October 9, where about 50 people from the Amcha center in Haifa were enjoying the balmy autumn weather and the soft-backed sea turtles that the Alexander River is famous for.

There are currently about 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, most of whom were children during the war.  Amcha was founded in 1987 by a group of devoted Holocaust survivors and mental health professionals, and it focuses on non-material, psychosocial and largely preventive support. Amcha has steadily expanded over the past years and today, there are 12 centers that operate throughout the country.  Over 190 mental health professionals and 600 volunteers provide services to almost 10,000 clients.

Anat noted that until the Eichmann trial, it was difficult for survivors to speak about what they went through during the war, “but now, they feel that the Holocaust is not just their personal experience, but rather a collective tragedy suffered by the entire Jewish people. The fact that almost all of them are retired also helps create a sense of space that encourages them to talk about their past. Most of them are in their eighties, and they were very excited about today’s activity. In fact, more people signed up than we had place for, so we very much hope that this will be the first rather than the last time such an activity takes place.”

Arye Lavi came from Haifa with his wife Sarah. “In 1941, all the Jews in Iasi, Rumania were rounded up and eventually murdered. I was a young child at the time, and my family hid in an attic. We took refuge in different places and on August 19, 1944, the area we were hiding in was bombed. In the Jewish cemetery in Iasi, there are 11 graves, one next to other, of all members of my family who were murdered.

“I came to Israel in 1951 and with Amcha’s help, I wrote a book about my experiences during the war. Now that I’m retired, there’s time for seeing the country. We’re really enjoying the sites and Alon, our KKL-JNF guide, is wonderful.”

Italy Park and the Alexander River were rehabilitated and developed thanks to contributions from friends of KKL‑JNF in Italy, and also from Israel and France. KKL‑JNF has restored a beautiful model segment of the river, with recreation areas and paths for hikers, cyclers and ATVs. The highlight of the park for most visitors is a face-to-face encounter with the giant turtles in the Water Turtle Park. The river, which had become very polluted over the years, is well on its way towards complete rehabilitation. The site includes grass lawns, recreation areas, benches and riverbank flora, and the dirt roads in the park are accessible to wheelchairs and baby carriages.

The next stop for the group from the north was KKL-JNF’s Ilanot tree arboretum, a forest garden on a 130 dunam plot which has over 750 different species of trees from all over the world, for the public to come learn about trees. It provides a green lung for residents of the densely developed Sharon region and has been developed by KKL-JNF since 1993, with the help of its friends in the USA. From there, the group proceeded to KKL-JNF’s National Seed Center at Beit Nechemia, where seeds are gathered for the trees and plants that will create the forests and groves of the future. From these seeds, about a million saplings are nurtured per year and subsequently planted in  KKL-JNF parks and forests.

Yaffa Pinto

Yaffa Pinto

After the explanation about how trees are grown, Yaffa Pinto from Hungary took out a KKL-JNF Rosh Hashanah greeting card from 1952 that she had purchased as a way of supporting KKL-JNF. “I never knew my father,” she said. “When the war ended, I was only three years old. I came to Israel with Aliyat Hanoar and worked in the fields.”

Litzi Reuven, who is originally from Bukovina, Rumania, survived the war as a child in the ghetto. “I love going on outings, but unfortunately, my husband, who used to drive, now needs a walker, and I have a cane. He used to work 31 days a month, only because there aren’t 32 days in a month. We still both really like and need to get out of the house. For us, it’s the ‘see Israel with KKL-JNF and Amcha’ time of our lives.”

All the 400 participants in the days’ activities arrived in eight buses at KKL-JNF’s Ayalon Canada Park for a concert by Einat Saruf, one of Israel’s popular singers. They were a bit tired, but very happy. Eti, head secretary of the Amcha center in Tel Aviv said that the day had been extraordinary. “Please communicate to the donors that they really did something amazing. Usually, when we go out for a day’s outing, they like it, but they also have some criticism. This was the first time that they loved everything and everywhere they were.”

Before the concert began, Edna Feinstein, KKL-JNF’s Director of Events, who as always had organized the day’s events in the finest manner imaginable, thanked KKL-JNF’s friends in Australia who had made the day possible. Dr. Bella Kantor, the director of the Amcha center in Beersheba, thanked KKL-JNF “for providing us with an activity that takes us out of our usual framework. We have many terrible memories of the forests in Europe, but the KKL-JNF forests in Israel have the scent of home for us. Words cannot express how grateful we are.”

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

Einat Saruf, who had the audience clapping, singing and swaying, began her performance by asking who would be willing, right now at the end of the day, to begin all over again, and everyone raised their hands. During the concert, KKL-JNF National Service volunteers passed out water and made certain everyone was having a great time.

Avraham Savion spent the war as a child in Belgium. “I remember asking my mother for a lollipop, and she said that she didn’t have enough money to buy one. Then I saw her putting money in a blue box that seemed to be full of coins. ‘Why don’t you give me money from there,’ I asked her. ‘No,’ she answered. ‘I want you to know, we were once a people who had their own country, and we were exiled from our home. This money goes to the Jewish National Fund, an organization that is buying back our ancestral homeland.’

‘And we’ll have our own army?’ I asked her, and she answered in the affirmative. ‘And we won’t have to be afraid of the Germans anymore?’ I went on questioning.

‘That, my sweet one, is exactly the reason I put money in the Blue Box, so that we will never again be in a situation like the one we are now. One day we will have our own country in Israel. Who knows, maybe you will even be privileged to live there.'”




















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