(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
On Wednesday, November 9, members of the "Oy Gevalt" Walking Group from Belgium were the honored guests at a ceremony dedicating the forest grove they had recently donated as part of the Carmel Forest restoration program. Andre Jawerbaum, the head of the group, spoke about how the idea had come about: "In honor of my birthday, my friends and family had an original idea – to help restore the Carmel Forest after the terrible December 2010 fire. They said that they weren't interested in just a couple trees; they wanted an entire forest grove. We spoke with KKL-JNF and our vision became a reality. I would like to thank everyone here at today's ceremony, especially the Belgian ambassador to Israel, who has graced us with her presence, and the people from KKL-JNF. This is a very joyous occasion for us."
Her Excellency Ms. Benedicte Frankinet, the Belgian ambassador to Israel, greeted the audience: "On behalf of the Belgian embassy, I would like to express our gratitude to KKL-JNF for this beautiful ceremony. I must say, this is not the first KKL-JNF ceremony I have attended, so I am amassing quite a large collection of KKL-JNF hats.
"I remember the day the Carmel fire broke out very well. I was at a function in Ashdod with other ambassadors and I received a text message about what had happened. It was very moving to see how so many countries spontaneously offered their assistance. We are now at the next stage, the restoration of the forest. I am always happy to see Belgians visiting Israel, and it is especially gratifying to know that you will actually be working in the forest today."
KKL-JNF's Eti Lankri, who accompanied the group and led the ceremony, invited the group to plant a symbolic olive tree at the donor's appreciation site: "The olive tree is a symbol of hope, peace and strength," Eti noted. "Its roots go down very deep and anchor the tree in the earth, and so too, the relationship between you and the land of Israel has been strengthened and deepened by your decision to plant a forest grove in the Carmel forest."
Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, Eti presented a certificate of honor to the group in commemoration of the occasion. The group then proceeded to the nearby forest, where they worked pruning and clearing low brush as part of KKL-JNF's Forester for a Day program. Before the ceremony, the group saw a short movie about KKL-JNF, the Forester for a Day program and Carmel restoration plans.
On the way to the forest, Andre spoke about how the Oy Gevalt Walking Group came into being: "We used to be a jogger's club headed by Georges Bojtman, who was our president. He started having some health problems, and we had all grown older, so we decided that we should become a walking club. At first, we walked in Belgium, but in 2001, when the Second Intifada broke out and no one wanted to visit Israel, we decided that we would do our annual walk in Israel, starting then. In the past, we've walked the Great Crater and the Small Crater in Mitzpe Ramon and we've walked the mountains and canyons around Eilat. This trip we've been hiking in the Western Galilee and now we're on our way to the Dead Sea."
Georges explained how the group received its rather original name: "When we first started, more people than I had expected registered and someone said to me, "Georges, with so many people, you have yourself a club, and a club needs a name." I had no idea what we should call ourselves, but when we went walking and the going got tough, I heard people talking in Yiddish and saying "oy gevalt, zi'es shvair (oy gevalt, it's difficult), and I knew that the club had found its name."
Yaakov Milsztain, who was on the walk together with his wife Dolly, said that he had been walking in Israel with Georges since 35 years ago: "We were in Eilat with our wives. They wanted to go shopping, and Georges and I were worried about how much money they were going to spend. So Georges suggested that we go for a hike, that way, if we couldn't stop them, at least we wouldn't have to see what they were up to. Since then, we've been walking in Israel every year over the last 35 years, and ten years ago, we became a club. My wife Dolly and I made aliya and moved to Netanya four years ago, but we still make a point of walking with the group every year when they come from Belgium."
Gerrard and Renee Rapparot-Lambert were hard at work pruning. "My wife Renee says that it's the first time she's ever seen me working," Gerrard laughed. "Israel is truly the land of miracles."
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