"The best way to ensure a nation's security is not by means of weapons or armies, it is rather through education." KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler was speaking at the Kennedy Memorial VIP Tree Planting Center, where Henry Tesch, President of the German States Council of Education Ministers, was planting an olive tree in honor of his visit to Israel. "Planting trees is a time-honored Jewish tradition. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai, a great Talmudic sage, said that if you are in the middle of planting a tree and hear that the Messiah has arrived, finish planting your tree before going to greet him! Planting trees is our way of creating the connection between man and his environment."
"KKL-JNF is usually identified as Israel's largest Green organization, which of course is true. Thanks to KKL-JNF, Israel is possibly the only country in the world that has more trees at the beginning of the 21st century than it had at the beginning of the 20th century. We have built over 200 water reservoirs and are considered international experts on stopping desertification. Without education, however, none of these accomplishments would be effective. Our education department, under the able leadership of Dr. Benziyon Bar-Lavi who is here with us today, hosts over 350,000 students annually at special educational programs. Thanks to the efforts of Avi Dickstein, Director of KKL-JNF's Resources & Development Division, another 150,000 pupils from abroad learn about Israel's history and nature conservation. We are part of the "Olive Tree Route" project, an initiative of UNESCO and the European Council, whose goal is to promote cultural dialogue and peace among the peoples of the Mediterranean basin.
"On a personal note, I first visited Germany as part of BBYO, the Bnei Brit Youth Organization, whose goal is to encourage youth to be a bridgehead between nations. As mayor of Givatayim, I had initiated a student-teacher exchange program with Germany, in which three schools from each country participate.
"I look forward to cooperating with you on topics related to global warming and the environment, but most importantly, on education. I would like to wish you a wonderful visit to Israel. I heard that there has been a lot of rain now in Germany, I would be happy if you could share some of it with us here while you enjoy the summer sun. I look forward to seeing you once again in Israel in the near future."
KKL-JNF Ze'ev Kedem, who skillfully emceed the ceremony, invited Henry Tesch to speak before planting his tree. "As someone who grew up in East Germany, it is especially meaningful for me to be here in 2009, planting a tree near the Kennedy Memorial. It gives me a sense of closure. I am amazed by what you have accomplished in Israel and I very much look forward to future dialogue.
"In Germany we have a saying that "the way is the goal" but on the other hand Franz Kafka once said that 'there is a goal, but no way. What we call a way is hesitation.' Your incredible achievements over such a short period of time prove that you do not hesitate. I would like to invite you to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the federal state where I am Minister of Education, to continue our dialogue and to build a bridge between the young people of Israel and Germany based on environmental education - a value shared by all nations. When President Kennedy visited Berlin, he stood by the Berlin Wall and declared, 'Ich bein ein Berliner.' Planting a tree here today gives me the feeling that I have a place in Israel."
After Mr. Tesch and his delegation received gifts from KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, Mr. Tesch read the Planter's Prayer and planted his tree. Later, speaking informally to Stenzler, he commented that he was known to be a very practical person. "I really meant what I said about a future dialogue, so let's exchange phone numbers and emails immediately and set up future meetings. When will you be visiting Germany?!"
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