Speaking to over 800 teachers at a gala ceremony that took place at the Jerusalem Theater on Thursday, January 12 in honor of KKL-JNF's 110th anniversary, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler declared that "teachers are Israel's most important resource and ensure our country's security" to a round of resounding applause. "The Teachers and Educators for the KKL-JNF Movement was founded in 1927, and I am very pleased to announce that I spoke with Yossi Wasserman, the chairman of Israel's Teachers Union, and we decided to reestablish this important organization. Our shared goal is to promote KKL-JNF's educational values and goals in Israel's schools. At the first teacher's conference, the poet Haim Nahman Bialik said that our most valuable treasure is the creative atmosphere in which our students learn. I am a great believer in the ability of Israel's teachers to make certain that our young people are, in fact, surrounded by such a creative atmosphere.
"In a little less than a month, we will be celebrating Tu Bishvat, a holiday that was adapted to modern-day Israel by KKL-JNF and Israel's teachers. KKL-JNF is Israel's largest green organization, but besides our environmental and ecological commitments, our most important concern is Israel's present and future values. Let us transform First Furrow Day into a celebration of creativity, continuity and caring for our land and our environment. Together, we will make Israel a better and greener country for us all, and for future generations. Happy 110th birthday!"
The president of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres, congratulated KKL-JNF by video: "The scope of KKL_JNF's activities is hard to grasp. KKL-JNF is not an enterprise, it is an idea. It began with the idea of redeeming a forsaken and desolate land with the help of Jews throughout the world, a goal that was achieved through the Blue Box and other means. This campaign was not dependant solely on wealthy donors, but on everyday people who wanted to be part of fulfilling this great vision. Thanks to all of its dedicated workers, KKL-JNF continues to keep our country green and beautiful. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Efi Stenzler on being re-elected as KKL-JNF world chairman. I am certain that he will continue the excellent work he is already famous for.
"My heart expands when I see what KKL-JNF has accomplished in so many different areas, as do the hearts of so many others. I know that KKL-JNF will not rest until our country is revealed in its entire natural splendor, graced by forests and parks, and loved by all those who walk along its paths and trails."
KKL-JNF was founded at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel on Tevet 19, 5662 (1902), which is also the day that the first furrow in the land of Israel was dug, in Petah Tikva in 1878. Israel's teachers were the guests of honor at this year's birthday celebration, which was attended by KKL-JNF CEO Yael Shealtieli and members and officials of the newly elected KKL-JNF Board of Directors. At the ceremony, winners of a schoolchildren's video clip competition on KKL-JNF were announced. About forty one-and-a-half to four-minute clips were submitted by schools all over the world, three of which were awarded prizes.
Dr. Benzi Bar-Lavi, director of KKL-JNF's Youth and Education Division, said that one of KKL-JNF's educational goals is to create significant and meaningful moments that people will remember for their entire lives: "What gets engraved in a person's memory? Meaningful moments, which are created through a combination of intellect and knowledge, emotion and experience, and physical action. A person must also dream. I grew up in this neighborhood. At a distance of less than 100 meters from here is the moon grove. We hiked a lot in this area. We would lie on our backs, look at the sky, and dream about our future. One who does not have land to stand on cannot dream, and this is what the vision of KKL-JNF is about. I am very pleased to celebrate KKL-JNF's 110th birthday together with Israel's teachers, who work with us all year round to educate the next generation in the values of Zionism, Judaism, and Ecology."
The ceremony, which was expertly led by Izzy Mann, concluded with the awarding of prizes to the winning schools by Efi Stenzler, Dr. Bar Lavi, and Dorit Ballin, Supervisor of Communication and Cinema Studies in the Ministry of Education. The audience was surprised to see that among the distributors of prizes were Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion, who apparently managed to transcend time in order to participate in this auspicious event.
Dorit Ballin worked closely with KKL-JNF on getting the schools in Israel involved: "One of the really nice things about this project was that it gave the children an opportunity to go out in nature and learn about their environment. Some of the kids knew about KKL-JNF beforehand, but most of them learned things about KKL-JNF which they had no idea of previously. This is the first time we've held such a competition, and personally, I would like to see it become an annual tradition."
First place went to the Ma'agalim Elementary School of Sdot Negev. The school principal, Mr. Amnon Avirgil, came to ceremony together with Meshi Davidian, a sixth-grader who starred in the winning video clip. "When Meshi was in first grade," the principal said, "we had an event in nature at which Meshi represented our school, so I feel that having her here today to celebrate KKL-JNF's 110th birthday is like closing a circle. Making clips about KKL-JNF was a great idea, because they're both informative and are also an educational tool for learning about what KKL-JNF does for Israel's environment and residents."
Itamar, Omri, Noam and Liad are students at the Mevo'ot Hanegev High School and they worked on the video clip that tied for third prize together with the clip from the Hartuv School in Tzova: "Our communications teacher asked us if we wanted to participate in a competition for the best clip on KKL-JNF, and it sounded like a really cool idea. We visited a few KKL-JNF sites, including Lahav Forest, a couple water reservoirs and the Hatzerim Sculpture
Garden. It was really interesting, and gave us a sense of connection with what KKL-JNF does for us."
Odelia Elimelech was the KKL-JNF liaison for education in Melbourne, Australia until about a half a year ago: 'There was a KKL-JNF teacher's conference last December, where we brainstormed about a project that would involve schools both in Israel and also abroad. Brett Kaye from the Moriah School of Sydney had the idea of a video clip competition. Four Jewish schools in Australia joined in, and Michael Schnell from Melbourne's Bialik School said to me, 'You'll see, we're going to win.' And just this morning, KKL-JNF's Hadar Epstein, who has always been of great assistance, called me up and told me that the Bialik School won second prize. I've just finished four years of being involved in Zionist education in Australia on behalf of KKL-JNF, and this news makes me very, very proud."
Visit to Herzl Museum
Earlier in the day, a number of the teachers and other guests visited the Herzl Museum on Mount Herzl, where they were greeted by KKL-JNF's Dudu Ashkenazi. Dudu told us that the teachers would be learning about a new joint initiative of KKL-JNF, the World Zionist Organization, the Ministry of Education and Herzl Center. "It's called 'My Zionist Dream,'" Dudu explained, "and it involves spending a day learning about Zionism as a basis for sustainable society in an innovative and experiential manner. The day is intended for eighth graders, and will focus on understanding the difference between a dream and a vision in the Zionist context, and seeing how this was expressed by Herzl and other Zionist leaders."
The visit to the Herzl Museum was the perfect way to connect to the man who convinced the participants of the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel to vote in favor of establishing a national fund, which would be the practical means of implementing the Zionist vision of creating a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel. Visitors followed Herzl's sometimes difficult life journey by means of short films and exhibits that made him come to life in an innovative and original manner, highlighting the issues he faced in a manner relevant for people living in the twenty-first century.
David Asavan of Migdal Ha'emek told us that everyone in his group volunteered in the Balfour Forest that surrounds Migdal Ha'emek. Efrat and Dinke, also from Migdal Ha'emek, added that the population of the town has now reached 28,000. "We were thrilled to be invited to celebrate with KKL-JNF," Efrat said. "The forest is a very important part of our lives in Migdal Ha'emek. Everything happens there, it's where we go for recreation, picnics or just for a walk in nature. KKL-JNF went from door to door to ask local residents to be part of caring for our forest and making decisions about its future development. We also help organize events, like the moonlight forest walk last September, which was a great success."
"I used to love the trees in Ethiopia," added Dinke. "I would often sit by them when I was a child, I felt as if they embraced me. When Efrat suggested to me that I become a KKL-JNF volunteer, I agreed immediately, and it's been immensely rewarding."
After the museum presentation, the group visited the graves of Herzl and other great Zionist leaders. They then proceeded to the Jerusalem Theater for the festive ceremony, which concluded with a concert by Yardena Arazi, a famous Israeli singer, who sang songs in praise of the land and those who protect and develop it. To quote Meshi Davidian, who starred in the winning video clip: "We bless KKL-JNF with another 110 years of working for Israel and its people, and more. Happy birthday!"
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