JNF Australia provides respite

July 22, 2014 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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Twenty families from Shlomit, a community situated near the border with the Gaza Strip, left for a weekend of peaceful activities in natural surroundings at KKL-JNF’s Field and Forest Center at Lavie, far from the terrors of the rocket fire they have been enduring. This respite weekend was made possible thanks to donations from KKL-JNF’s Friends in Australia.

fence“We have a wonderful community in Shlomit, but this isn’t an easy time for us,” said 24-year-old mother of three Tamar Ratzon. “In Shlomit we can’t go outdoors at present, as we have only fifteen seconds to reach a protected area from the moment the warning sounds. This trip is a wonderful change of atmosphere, and that’s very important for the children – and for us adults, too. Ever since we left on this excursion we haven’t heard a single air raid warning or explosion of a falling rocket.”

With the support of its Friends throughout the world, KKL-JNF offers all year round respite activities for residents living near the Gaza Border and in the rest of southern Israel. During this tense period when an unceasing hail of rockets and missiles is pouring down on southern Israel – and elsewhere in the country, too – KKL-JNF is making a special effort to organize respite excursions and group hospitality at a variety of sites. Apart from enjoying outdoor activities, the visitors are also given the opportunity to gather their strength in preparation for coping with the security situation once they return home.

“Throughout this weekend we rest, calm down and gather our strength so that we can go back home, back to the world we live in, and continue to cope with what’s happening to us,” said 27-year-old Hila Halevi, who is the mother of two children.

Apart from organizing the respite excursions, the KKL-JNF Youth and Education Division also sends its educational patrol vehicle out to visit shelters in southern Israel in order to provide environment- and Zionism-related activities for the children. Through a whole host of enjoyable activities, the organization’s instructors help the children to release their tension and calm down. Forty such KKL-JNF teams are now circulating among the bomb shelters of the south; they have also been providing activities for soldiers waiting to enter Gaza as part of the ground offensive.

“At present we are focusing the greater part of our efforts on southern Israel, in order to help the children withstand what’s happening and imbue them with patriotic values,” said Zohar Volosky, Director of KKL-JNF’s Education and Youth Division, and added: “KKL-JNF strengthens the connection between the people and their land and does everything it can for the sake of our country.”

in-water-Yoav-450 These donations made by Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide for the benefit of children and IDF soldiers in the south are an expression of their profound solidarity with Israel and its people, especially in these dark days. The gesture made by a group of children at a summer camp in Canada was especially touching: they sent letters of support to the children of Sderot, with KKL-JNF instructors serving as intermediaries.

KKL-JNF and its Friends all over the world do not wait for wartime in order to extend a helping hand to support communities in the Negev. Shlomit, for example, was established with the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Argentina and Latin America. With the help of their donations, KKL-JNF prepared the land for temporary housing, built roads and got the terrain ready for the construction of residential and agricultural infrastructures. The residents of Shlomit are still living in these mobile homes. Recently, however, the sale of plots for permanent housing has begun, and KKL-JNF is in the process of building a security road that IDF troops will use for their patrols along the border with Egypt and Gaza.

“KKL-JNF helped us to found Shlomit and it continues to support and encourage us now, too,” said Kobi Revivo, the community’s spokesperson. “We have a strong, united community, and we have no intention of giving up our homes or our land.”

On the way to the Lavie Field and Forest Center, the Shlomit group stopped for a pleasant walk in Ramat Menashe’s beautiful Nahal HaShofet gully where KKL-JNF has created a delightful family-friendly route along the riverbank. The construction of this accessible path was possible thanks to the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends in the USA. For the Shlomit families, almost every one of which had a baby or two in a stroller, this route was ideal.

Green hills, pure clear air, magnificent flowers, foliage, cool spring water – all these now replaced the wailing sirens and the thunder of explosions that residents of southern Israel have been experiencing for a long time – and to an even greater extent at present, now that the Protective Edge operation is underway. Here in the countryside the children look up to see the treetops, rather than from a fear that a rocket is about to fall on them.

“At home the children are frightened, they cry often, wake up at night in terror and cling to their parents,” said Hila HaLevi. “But here on this trip we suddenly feel like people leading a normal life, and the children are smiling again and enjoying themselves.”

The happy shouts of the children splashing in the springs at Nahal HaShofet were living proof of her words. “It’s fun to go on a trip like this, especially because of the water and our friends from home,” said seven-year-old Hallel Schwartz. When asked about life under fire in Shlomit, she added, “I’m not so scared of the alerts, because we’ve got safe rooms and shelters outdoors, too. When there’s an alert we run quickly to a safe place and at night, all the children sleep in the protected area of the house. Yesterday I got a bit upset, because there was an alert and suddenly I heard a loud boom. I ran to the protected area, but I was carrying my sister, and I fell and hurt myself.”

After the tranquil excursion in Nahal HaShofet, the group arrived at KKL-JNF’s Lavie Field and Forest Center, where they met other families from different parts of southern Israel who, like them, had been invited by the organization to spend a quiet weekend in the countryside.

The Lavie Center extends over an area of some 120 dunam (approx 30 acres) and includes tents, cabins and play equipment in the forest. Throughout the year it serves as a venue for extreme sports, ODT, outdoor cooking and overnight camping for children and teenagers in a variety of frameworks. The center for the study of Zionism and ecology that was recently established at Lavie offers games, activities and presentations, which, with the help of cutting-edge technology, allow visitors a glimpse of the issues that concern KKL-JNF, such as Zionism and the environment.

After two relaxing days in the countryside everyone returned home with renewed energies. Life on the Negev border presents a great many challenges even when things are normal, and these are magnified by the current situation. KKL-JNF, which does so much to develop and settle the Negev, does not forget the residents of the south in these troubled times.

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