“The Knesset is the temple of democracy in Israel,” said the Speaker of the Knesset, MK Ruby Rivlin, at a meeting with members of the KKL-JNF World Leadership Conference (WLC) from all over the world, during their tour of Israel’s parliament.KKL-JNF Worldwide
WLC participants visited the main hall, where Knesset meetings and the votes that shape Israel’s destiny take place. They toured the committee rooms, watched a video clip about the history of the Knesset, and were amazed by the Chagall hall, which was designed by the famous painter.
Raffaele Sassun, President, KKL-JNF Italy, greeted Knesset Speaker Rivlin and said, “Visiting the Knesset is a central event for all the members of the mission. Jerusalem is the capital city of all of the Jewish people.”
As a longtime Jerusalemite, whose roots in the city go back two hundred years, Rivlin told the members of the mission, “All of us read the hagada on Passover, but we should not say ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ We should say ‘This year in Jerusalem, and next year too.’ Jerusalem encapsulates the whole idea of Zionism.”
Regarding the importance of the Knesset to the Israeli public, the Knesset Speaker said, “All over Israel, all kinds of things are discussed, but here in the Knesset is where decisions are made. The minority accepts the position of the majority, even if there is a difference of one vote. This is the nature of Israeli democracy.”
Rivlin also related to Israel’s image in the world. “Many countries criticize us, because we must protect ourselves from our enemies. However, even our sharpest critics respect us for being a true democracy.”
Later, he also emphasized the aspiration for peace. He pointed out the window of the hall to those present and noted that through it one can see the rooftops of Bethlehem. “Although Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, it is also the country of members of other religions, who were born here and live here. Our fate is to live together, and I wish we could do this with good neighborly relations and mutual respect.”
The mission later met with MK Isaac Herzog, who was greeted by Nathan Disenhouse, President, JNF Toronto, Canada, who said that “KKL JNF is an organization that is one hundred percent Israel and that works on developing the country. It is an honor for us to visit the Knesset and to meet its representatives.”
MK Herzog: “The people of KKL-JNF all over the world are the most wonderful of Israel’s supporters. KKL-JNF is involved with protecting the land, settling the land, improving the quality of life, dealing with the desert, and the water issue. I would like to thank each and every one of you, personally, for your work on Israel's behalf.”
As a member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, MK Herzog reported on the political situation. He related to the time of uncertainty and instability that the Middle East is going through and remarked that it would undoubtedly have a considerable affect on Israel. “Today, more than ever,” said MK Herzog, “we need your help in raising support for Israel in the world.”
Since he served as the Minister of Social Welfare until very recently, MK Herzog devoted part of his speech to the gaps in Israeli society. “There is a magnificent mosaic of cultures in Israel, which is something that presents many social challenges for reducing gaps and promoting the weaker sectors of the population.” In conclusion, he called on KKL-JNF to continue supporting Israel, and he emphasized the vital role of the organization in the realm of the environment, water sources and settlement.
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler thanked the Israeli Knesset representatives warmly and noted the important connection between KKL JNF in Israel and abroad and the different offices of the State of Israel, who work in conjunction in order to advance common goals.
After the Knesset tour, the members of the WLC mission had lunch with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger. The Chief Rabbi blessed everyone present, expressed his appreciation for their work, and said a prayer for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, with the hope that he would return home soon.
The WLC mission proceeded to tour the Old City and the Jewish Quarter, including a visit to the Hurva synagogue and the Mamilla neighborhood.
Australia: KKL-JNF Australia hopes to contribute towards improving the quality of life in Israel and is therefore involved in many environmental, educational and water projects. “These activities are important not only for the present generation but mainly for future generations,” said Grahame Leonard, Federal President, KKL-JNF Australia. The Jewish community in Australia numbers around 135,000, and according to Leonard 86% have visited Israel. 12,000 of them have even made aliya. The connection between Israel and Australia is based not only on the Jewish community but also on the friendship between the nations and their governments, which encompasses the entire political spectrum of Australia. “Israel and Australia have common goals related to water issues,” said Leonard, “since Australia is the most arid continent. Israel is very advanced in agricultural aspects, while there is a wealth of knowledge in Australia about saving urban water. The biofilter project is a wonderful example of the winning combination between the two countries, utilizing the advantages of each of them.”
Denmark: “There are approximately 6,000 Jews in Denmark,” said Ulf Haxen, Chairman, KKL-JNF Denmark, “and many of them are connected to KKL-JNF, especially in relation to ecological matters. We focus on projects related to trees and water. Recently, we are also involved in developing young leadership, with the aim of encouraging the next generation to visit Israel and become involved in what is going on here.”
England: “The Negev is the key to Israel’s future, said David Goodman, CEO,
JNF England, “and it is also our main involvement in Israel. Of course, the Negev is very unlike the English countryside, which helps us understand the challenges Israel has to deal with, especially with regard to water.” Goodman described the residents of the Negev as “the pioneers of the 21st century and said, “The fact that Israel succeeds in so many fields inspires us to continue being involved. Our job is to assist where assistance is needed and contribute toward further success.”
Germany: “Friends of KKL-JNF in Germany are involved in KKL-JNF projects throughout Israel,” said Paul Jurecky, Bureau Chief, KKL-JNF Düsseldorf, Germany, “but for us, the main one is the German States Forest in Lehavim, in the Negev. We also participate in the construction of reservoirs, whose importance is obvious.” Regarding the influence of Germany’s past on raising funds for Israel, Jurecky said, “We receive more donations from Christians than from Jews. Our Christian friends understand Germany’s commitment to Israel and wish to help in building the State of Israel.”
France: The Jews in France were shocked by the Carmel fire, as was the whole world, said Bernard Rebibo, Vice President, KKL-JNF France. “Restoring the Carmel forest is our main project at present, with the hope that it will again be one of the most beautiful places in Israel.” On improving Israel’s image in the eyes of the French people, Rebibo said that KKL-JNF organizes concerts with famous Israeli artists, so that the French people get to know Israeli culture and not just hear about the country in connection with war and conflict.
Sweden: Thirty-nine-year-old Shai Ouaki, one of the representatives of the younger generation at the conference, was born in Israel but has lived in Sweden since he was three. “It is very important for the younger people to be connected to Israel, not only because we are the next generation, but because the media these days works differently, and we have a lot to contribute to the older generation in this field. Regarding the generation gap, Ouaki said, “For my grandfather, Israel was the most important thing in his life, if he were left with two spare shekels, he would give one shekel to Israel and the other one to us, his grandchildren. Young people would rather buy an iPad than donate to Israel. Our challenge is to encourage them to be involved and to support Israel.”
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