"Who likes olives?" Ben Heineman asked his children as they jumped out of the car at Ben Shemen Forest, where KKL-JNF had organized activities on the theme of "the olive tree" during the recent Sukkot holiday. "Who doesn't?" the children responded enthusiastically, running to join the hundreds of parents and children participating in the many and varied activities related to olives and olive trees. Ben Shemen Forest is close to both Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, and to major national highways, and in fact, is named for its fame as an olive-producing region in the past -in Hebrew shemen means oil. The Ben-Shemen Forest recreation areas, picnic sites and trails suitable for the physically challenged, were all built and developed with help of KKL-JNF friends worldwide.
Walking through the olive groves, families stopped at the various activity stations to join the fun. At the first stop, children drew pictures of doves with olive branches in their mouths, the symbol of peace, then cut the bird out and attached a string to it, so it could be hung as a decoration in the sukkah. Another station had the children moving in squares formed by a rope if they knew the answers to questions related to the history of Ben Shemen. All the activities were conducted by shinshinim, high school graduates who volunteer for a year of public service before joining the army, under the bright leadership of KKL-JNF's Edna Feinstein.
One of the most popular and informative stations was dedicated to people and nature, focusing on the many and varied ways we use olives. Elad, the KKL-JNF volunteer conducting the activity, asked what uses olives have other than for eating. "For soap," the answer came quickly. "Exactly," Elad replied. "Ever since ancient times, olive oil has been used on the body, it helps the skin and opens up the pores. What else?" "Medicines", came the answer. "Excellent," said Elad. "Doctors recommend drinking one teaspoon of olive oil daily to aid digestion and to help sleep." "It's also good for earaches," one of the children added and Elad smiled, saying he learned something new.
We met 11 year old Noga Shwartz and 5 year-old Noy Shem-Tov, or at least their heads, which could be seen through a hole in a carton sign with the inscription, "I was at the KKL-JNF Sukkot event with the volunteers and had a great time." Noga's mother, Hadas, told us that she preferred KKL-JNF activities during the holiday because they take place in nature. A friend had just heard on the radio that 11,000 people in Israel have the name Hadas, which means myrtle, one of the four species of plants the Bible commands the Jewish people to take on the Sukkot holiday. "It's lucky that your parents didn't name you lulav," Noy laughed.
At 11:00, the children gathered at the olive grove to look for envelopes concealed in the olive trees, each of which contained a paper with a fragment of a story in which an olive was the narrator. The olive described how it was first planted in the ground as a seed, how it loves the mountains and hills, and how it grew into an olive tree. The children could be seen fanning out between the trees, anxious to find the next envelope.
There was also a walk to another, older olive grove, where there were archaeological sites from the Second Temple era, wine and oil presses, caves used for shelter, ritual baths, water cisterns and burial graves. The KKL-JNF guide explained how the olive tree, like the Jewish people, had developed stratagems of survival. Unlike other trees, the roots of the olive tree do not supply nourishment to the entire tree, but only to certain sections of it. As a result, if one part of the tree is diseased or uprooted, the other part of the tree can go on living. Two olive branches appear on the symbol of the state of Israel, inspired by the vision of the prophet Zechariah, and signify the unity and balance between the priestly (spiritual) and kingly (political) leadership.
Dr. Anat Madmoni, who led a KKL-JNF Sukkot activity in British Park, noted that the Bible doesn't talk about olives as a fruit that you eat. "In Biblical times, olive trees were primarily a source of olive oil, which was not used for salads or sautÃ©ing vegetables, but for fuel, mainly light. One of the most interesting things about the olive tree is that one year it is prolific and gives a lot of fruit while the year after, there is almost no produce. All the olive trees in the Mediterranean basin are synchronized around this cycle. On Sukkot, it has become a KKL-JNF tradition to invite everyone to the olive orchards to participate in the harvest, but this is the year when there is almost no fruit, so we are learning about olives rather than picking them."
Efrat Avodi from Shoham told us that her friend had suggested they take the kids to a shopping mall in Holon, where there was theater for children as well as the stores. "I told her that we could go to the mall anytime," Efrat said, "but when would we have an opportunity to be in an olive grove and actually learn about nature? And you know what? The children are actually much calmer and happier here than in that noisy mall. This is an experience they will take with them and remember."
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