(photo credit: KKL)
A group of fifty Argentinean friends of KKL-JNF arrived in Israel to visit historical sites, meet Israel's people, see its landscapes and view KKL-JNF projects particularly those donated by KKL-JNF Argentina.
Representatives from South America toured from Jerusalem to Eilat, planting trees in Yatir Forest in the south, spending a weekend in Tel Aviv and tourig northern Israel, including Tzefat, Biriya Forest, and Hula Lake Park; with a visit to the Israel-Argentina Friendship Forest in Ben Shemen, included.
The tour of the Negev began with the Besor water reservoir. Here, in the heart of the desert, it is easy to understand just how severe Israel's water crisis is and how important KKL-JNF's reservoir building is for the country. The group continued to Halutziyot, a new village being built in the Halutza sand dunes for Gush Katif evacuees, who were forced to leave their homes as part of the disengagement plan. When the village will be completed, it will be called 'Bnei Netzarim' reminiscent of Netzarim that was evacuated in Gush Katif. Friends of KKL-JNF Latin America supported infrastructure for the Halutziyot villages, together with KKL-JNF America, Italy and Britain.
Moshe Brinker, a local resident, met the group to explain the challenges one faces when settling a faraway desert region. When Brinker mentioned that he has six children, the group applauded and when he added that the average number of children per family in the village is eight, apologizing pleasantly for 'still being young,' the applause grew even louder. "You are now only one kilometer away from the Egyptian border, next to the smuggler's and illegal infiltrator's route," said Brinker. "Gaza is only four kilometers from here, so we are all within missile range. The new village being built is intended for 300 families, who are not deterred by having to deal with all these difficulties."
Brinker described KKL-JNF's commitment to building villages for the evacuees, with contributions from friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, through whom land has been prepared for building villages and for agricultural crops that will be the basis of their livelihood.
The group went to visit the agriculture, which was very impressive. In the middle of the desert sands that extend as far as the eye can see, a green island suddenly appears - an organic carrot field! The local residents are not only growing carrots, however, they are also growing potatoes, peppers and even etrogim for the Sukkot holiday. Everyone was invited to pick a carrot out of the ground and to eat it as a snack. The children naturally jumped at the opportunity to pick a big, juicy carrot, but the adults were also visibly moved.
Brinker showed everyone how to clean the sand off the carrot using the stem and the leaves, and a moment later, a surrealistic scene could be seen: in the heart of the desert sands, a group of Argentineans, men and women, children and seniors, all standing together eating carrots. The desert silence was broken only by the sound of their chomping. From there, the group continued to another picking experience, this time in the orange groves. The big, colorful oranges were very inviting and everyone had a great time picking the fruit that has become a symbol of Israeli agriculture.
Silvia Dobri signed up for the mission with her husband and young son Ezequiel, a special needs child. "I have been dreaming of coming to Israel ever since I was young, and now I have finally realized my dream. In Argentina, we go to the synagogue every day, mainly because Ezequiel really likes it. When we visited the Western Wall, he was very moved – but he also really liked the fish in Eilat as well as spiritual things! It's important for us to travel and take Ezequiel with us everywhere: - everyone can learn something from an encounter with him and discover that there's nothing to be ashamed or afraid of with special needs kids."
For Leon Gropper, a Holocaust survivor, this is his first visit to Israel. "I am very excited, I dreamed of coming to Israel since the day I was born. What has impressed me most is the sight of so many flowers in a desert. Here in the wilderness, we see people growing food out of the sand! Every Jew should see this, to understand how amazing it is."
Taragan Guillermo came with his wife and four daughters. "It is very important for everyone to come to Israel and see what's happening with one's own eyes. This is the first time our daughters have been in Israel and that's really important for us." Brian Golberg, eleven years old added, "Israel isn't at all as I imagined it. I thought it would be harder here and the truth is that I was also a bit scared before we left. I learned a lot and for sure I'll come back to visit."
The group was joined on the day's tour by a group of youngsters from Argentina who are participating in a Bnei Akiva leadership seminar. Alex Fain commented "We learn at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and tour all over the country. When we go back to Argentina, we will take advantage of what we have learned to organize community activities to promote Zionism and Judaism. It's very important that the young generation will not forget that we are all Jews and that they understand the tremendous importance of the Jewish state."
Guillermo Lesniewier, KKL-JNF treasurer in Argentina said. "This is my second visit to Israel and the country has made great progress. It was very important for me to see the amazing things happening here with my own eyes, thanks to cooperation with world Jewry. When I go back to Argentina, I'll be better able to explain to people why their support is so critical."
Michael Adri, KKL-JNF representative to Latin America pointed out. "The best way to stay Jewish is by being connected to Israel. KKL-JNF's added value is the connection we create between people and the land. When you pick a carrot out of the earth and eat it, it's an experience you never forget. I bring many groups to Israel every year: bringing people to support KKL-JNF activities where they live is no less important than fundraising itself."
Annie Zeidenberg, KKL-JNF's Latin America desk added. "It's important that people come to Israel and see how many projects KKL-JNF had carried out in so many different fields – water reservoirs, settlement, agriculture and even joint projects with the Israeli army. For many members of this group, this is their first visit to Israel, and of course they are very excited to be here. And those who had already been to Israel in the past are excited to see how much has changed since their last visit."
At the entrance to the Palmachim Air Force base, a well-cared for and inviting relaxation corner had been built through contributions of Friends of KKL-JNF Argentina. On weekends, parents come to visit children serving at the base and thanks to this contribution they have a pleasant place to sit, with picnic tables in a small lawn surrounded by olive trees. The guests from Argentina dedicated the new site at a festive ceremony. Mordechai Dayan, former KKL-JNF Co-Chairman, spoke at the ceremony. "KKL-JNF is an organization that cannot be compared to any other organization, one that built the state and the land. For centuries, Jews have prayed, 'Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem', and that's exactly what KKL-JNF does: it rebuilds the country. Israel is a small country and we still have a lot of work to do so please take the good things you see here back with you to Argentina and become goodwill ambassadors of the state of Israel."
One of the highlights of the ceremony was meeting pilot, Lieutenant Colonel "A" who was wearing a flight overall and who greeted the guests on behalf of the Israeli Air Force. "I would like to thank you for this wonderful project, which has a number of unique features. First of all there are lots of olive trees, characteristic of the land of Israel; secondly fruit trees around us, also characteristic of Israeli flora. Thirdly, the synthetic grass is a good example of how KKL-JNF thinks right because of our country's water crisis. It is really heartwarming to see we have friends in the world who think of us and care about us."
Participating in the ribbon-cutting at the donor appreciation plaques
was Raquel Levi, the widow of Gilbert Levi, past president of KKL-JNF
Argentina. Afterwards, the group planted more olive trees around the
relaxation corner, made a happy toast and went to tour the air force
base. The packed day came to an end but there is no doubt that the
special connection with Israel that took root in everyone's heart will
For more information, please visit our website at www.kkl.org.il/eng or e-mail [email protected]