Five months have passed since the fire in the Carmel, and the steady flow of volunteers from Israel and abroad has continued. As of now, KKL-JNF has received approximately 6,000 volunteers, who come to work for a day or several days to help rehabilitate the forest. On Wednesday, May 4th, we met two exceptional groups of children in the Carmel – a group of children from France and Israel, and a group of Yeshiva students from Denver, Colorado in the U.S.
A group of 50 ten and eleven-year-old pupils from the Yegel Yaakov School in Paris proved that even small children can perform great deeds. They were joined by fifty of their peers from the Nativ Eliezer Carmel School in Haifa.
Eitan Abutbul, an eleven-year-old pupil from Paris, spoke in fluent Hebrew: "It's fun to come to the forest, and we want to help make the country greener. I was very sad to see the fire on television in France. I'm proud to have the opportunity to come and help. When children from Israel and France work together, it's proof that all Jews in the world are united."
The children looked out over the burnt forest from a lookout point before they began their work. The children from France had only seen the forest on television, but for the Israeli children it was close to home. The eyes of the children from both countries sparkled with excitement when they heard that they would be helping to preserve the forest by pruning trees and creating fire lines to prevent fires in the future. The children undertook their jobs as if they were on a pioneering mission.
The one hundred children received brief instructions in Hebrew and French from KKL-JNF foresters, and quickly dispersed throughout the Ofer Forest, to begin working. They pruned branches, removed the cuttings, and created a protective firebreak in the green forest. Holding large pruning shears in their small hands, they diligently tended every branch, and fought relentlessly for the future of the forest as only children can.
"When I heard about the fire I was very sad because of the people who were killed, the wildlife that didn't manage to escape, and the trees that were destroyed," said Rivka Ezaoui, a pupil from France. "There is a forest opposite my home, so I know how important it is to live close to nature. Today we proved that even small children can help the country if everyone does what they can for Israel."
Jamal Fahmawi, a KKL-JNF forester in the Carmel, explained that this was the first time that such young volunteers had come to the forest. Observing the children at work, he exclaimed excitedly, "They work really well for kids their age!" It became evident that this was not only an educational activity, but a genuine contribution towards preserving the forest.
The idea of a meeting between children from Israel and France was initiated by the Naze' family who made Aliya to Israel from France. Their three children previously attended the Jewish school in Paris, and now attend the school in Haifa. They were responsible for establishing contact between the two schools and both schools were pleased to implement the idea.
Lisa Naze', the mother of the family, said, "I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for the children to meet each other. On a personal level, the meeting helped me make a wonderful connection between our previous life in France and my present life in Israel. I hope that the meeting will encourage other families to make Aliya. I would tell the children's parents that despite the fact that it's not easy to get used to a new country, Israel will always be the home for every Jew."
Her daughter, Rivka Naze', was excited at the opportunity for her friends from France to meet her new friends in Israel. "I haven't seen my friends from France since we came to Israel and I was very excited at the meeting. I hope that after this joint activity children from Israel and France will be able to be friends, if we can just overcome the language difficulty. There are lots of differences between the two countries, but all in all we are all kids who like the same things."
Ketty Pardo-Roques, who is in charge of projects for new immigrants for the Haifa Municipality, was among the project's organizers. According to Ketty, the connection with KKL-JNF is a natural part of the many activities and tours that take place during the delegation's visit. "Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael is a well-known and respected organization among the Jewish community in France. The tragedy in the Carmel arouses deep feelings of identity within the community. Working in the forest is a marvelous way to experience Israel, and the encounter between the children is extremely important for both groups."
Michele Favre, a teacher in the Yegel Yaakov School, explained that the school is very Zionist and encourages its students to be closely connected with Israel from a very young age. The school sends a delegation to Israel every two years. "If we help children become connected with Israel when they are young, they will also love it when they grow up," she explained. "When they work in the forest and feel the earth in their hands, they become connected to the Land."
The special activity in the forest had deep significance not only for the guests from France, but for the Israeli hosts as well. Yuval Karp from Haifa saw the fire from the balcony of his house as well as on television. "The forest around our house was burned, but if each of us does a little something, than all of us together will be able to make the forest green again," said Yuval. "As children, it's our responsibility to preserve the forest. This is our country and we are her future," he explained.
Yuval added that he always wanted to learn French because it sounded like a romantic language. "Maybe after this visit the children from France will want to make Aliya to Israel, and I'll have friends who can help me learn French," he added optimistically. Walking in the Footsteps of a Teacher who Perished
An additional group of volunteers from the Sha'arei Da'at Yeshiva in Denver, Colorado arrived to work in the forest alongside the children from Israel and France.
For them, the work in the Carmel Forest was not only a Zionist activity and a contribution to the country, but a personal mission as well. Uriel Malka, Z"L, one of the people killed in the tragic Carmel fire, worked as a teacher in their school during his stay in Denver, Colorado as a delegate from the Jewish Agency. After his return to Israel he served as a rabbi in the Prison Services, and was on the bus that was trapped in the flames.
Juli Kramer, the school principal, explained that the objective of the delegation is
to encourage pupils to become acquainted with the country beyond simply coming as ordinary tourists. "We want them to be involved in what is happening in Israel, so we are initiating other community activities during the visit."
Shifra Brandt, 14, from Denver, Colorado, explained that there are numerous forest fires in the Denver area, and everyone living there is well aware of the problem. "We relate to things completely differently when a fire occurs in Israel. The tragedy in the Carmel makes me extremely sad. It's amazing that we have the opportunity to come here and help near the place where our teacher was killed.
This is the story of two special delegations of volunteers who are among the hundreds of groups who have arrived since the fire. These groups arrive every day from throughout the world and their members come from all walks of life. KKL-JNF workers, headed by Etti Azulay and Danny Fadida, work with dedication to receive the volunteers in the forest with deep love and admiration. Each time a new group of volunteers arrives, they are amazed at the deep ties the volunteers feel towards the forest and at the feelings of caring and belonging that they express. These volunteers come to make their contribution to the forest, the environment, and Mankind. In addition to feeling personal ties to the forest, they are making a genuine contribution that will help prevent the next forest fire.
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