Maccabi contingent plants trees

July 16, 2013 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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The Australian delegation to the Maccabiah Games sets out to plant trees at KKL-JNF’s planting center in Nahshon Forest.
A week before the opening of the Maccabiah Games thousands of Jewish athletes have already arrived from all over the world, including the 400-strong delegation from Australia. As soon as they landed in Israel the delegation members set out to plant trees at KKL-JNF’s planting center in Nahshon Forest. “The moment my hands touched the ground I immediately felt at home, despite the long journey we’d made and the enormous distance we’d covered.”

Young athletes with seedlings. Photo: Yoav Devir

Young athletes with seedlings. Photo: Yoav Devir

When they landed in Israel the members of the Australian delegation did not rush straight to their hotel rooms to recover from the 28-hour flight that had carried them from one end of the world to the other: they went out to plant trees instead! After landing at Ben Gurion Airport in the early hours of the morning they headed straight for KKL-JNF’s planting center in Nahshon Forest, and the sun obliged by rising just a few minutes prior to their arrival.

By planting trees in Israeli soil these Australian athletes reminded everyone of the spirit embodied in the Maccabiah: the connection between Diaspora Jews and Israel. This has likewise been the KKL-JNF spirit throughout all the years of its activity, and tree-planting is one of the very best ways to express it.

“We have a years-long connection with KKL-JNF,” said Lisa Borowick, President of Maccabi Australia. “Planting a tree is the best possible Israeli welcome, and I’m sure we’ll have many victories here in the days to come, that we’ll make new friends and have unforgettable experiences.”

Every four years thousands of athletes come to Israel to compete in the various sporting events in what has become known as the “Jewish Olympics.” The 19th Maccabiah Games, for which the venue this time is Jerusalem, will be bigger than ever before, with over 9,000 athletes competing from seventy-two countries worldwide.

L-R: Sam and Ruth Parasol, Tom Goldman, Lisa Borowick and Harry Procel Photo: Yoav Devir

L-R: Ruth and Sam Parasol, Tom Goldman, Lisa Borowick                           and Harry Procel                     Photo: Yoav Devir

“Our aim is to connect with Israel and our Jewish brethren throughout the world,” explained Harry Procel, head of the Australian delegation. “It’s important for us to be good ambassadors for the Australian Jewish community – and to win medals, too, of course. Taking part in the Maccabiah is an experience that the members of the delegation will remember all their lives.”

While all the athletes were busy alighting from the buses, getting a drink and a bite to eat and recovering from their long journey, the members of the rugby team didn’t waste so much as a second: they got out the oval ball and started practicing immediately with great dedication. They had no time for frivolity, as they had come to defend their title from the previous Maccabiah and take home another gold medal.

“I’m always happy to come to Israel,” said rugby player Rael Shakenovsky. “And I’m also glad of the opportunity to contribute something to nature by planting a tree here.”

Andy Michelson welcomes the athletes. Photo: Yoav Devir
KKL-JNF’s Chief of Protocol Andy Michelson welcomed the athletes and wished them every success. As an immigrant from Australia himself, he confessed himself torn between his loyalty to both the Australian and Israeli teams. “The most important thing is for each one of you to leave behind here in Israel something alive and growing,” he said, and went on to provide a brief explanation of how a tree should be planted. “Make sure the green end’s up, and you’ve got to get your hands at least a little bit dirty!” he told the visitors.

Tree planting. Photo: Yoav Devir

Tree planting. Photo: Yoav Devir

Taryn Levin and Talia Borowick, two of the young women athletes, read the Planter’s Prayer with great excitement, then came the moment for which everyone had assembled in the forest: it was time to start planting. Everyone chose a young green sapling and set to work.

“This is the first time I’ve planted a tree in Israel,” said 15-year-old Kate Woods. “The moment my hands touched the ground I immediately felt at home, even though we’d made such a long journey and come from such a tremendously long way away.”

For 16-year-old Michali Aizen this was her second visit to Israel. Visiting as a member of the Maccabiah delegation is, however, a totally new experience: “It’s exciting to be in Israel and plant a tree here,” she said. “There’s no better welcome when you land here than taking part in a planting ceremony.”

The older Australian visitors have painful memories of the 15th Maccabiah in 1997, when a bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed; four members of the Australian delegation lost their lives, and dozens of others were injured. In the wake of the disaster, JNF Australia displayed great generosity of spirit and worked together to promote a variety of projects designed to rehabilitate the Yarkon River and clean up its polluted waters. Now, during the 19th Maccabiah, on the banks of the Yarkon, KKL-JNF will hold a memorial ceremony for those who lost their lives in the disaster; members of the Australian Maccabiah delegation, the Australian Ambassador to Israel, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler and the Mayor of Ramat Gan will all be in attendance.

Sam Parasol was present when the bridge collapsed, and the memories still haunt him. However, as this is his seventh Maccabiah games, he has many good memories, too, such as footballer Tal Brody’s announcement at the conclusion of the 1977 Maccabiah that he had decided to immigrate to Israel and make his home here.

Sam’s wife Ruth Parasol is active in KKL-JNF in Australia. “The combination of sport, Israel and KKL-JNF is just perfect as far as I’m concerned,” she declared. “I think that all the delegations should take part in the planting, because it’s a wonderful way to strengthen ties with the state. I’m sure that because of this connection, some of the athletes will decide to come back and live in Israel in the future.”

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