A group of 20 Friends of KKL-JNF arrived from Montreal, Canada, to take part in Israel’s first dragon-boat race. Dragon boats, which originated in China, are enormous, and each boat is rowed by twenty people. Forty teams took part in the event, 20 from Canada and 20 from Israel.
The Israeli dragon-boat festival was initiated by volunteers from Ottawa who were looking for ways to boost tourism and strengthen ties between Canada and Israel. To this end, Alice Lehrer formed The Blazing Paddles, a group of Friends of KKL-JNF, who took part in the race.
“When I heard about dragon-boat festivals, I thought at once that it was a marvelous idea, even though I’d never rowed before in my life,” says Lehrer. “I don’t need excuses to come to Israel, but when I do have a good excuse, I take advantage of it at once!”
When asked how her family and friends had reacted to her initiative, she responds: “Some thought I’d taken leave of my senses.” But she refused to be discouraged and worked for a year to get the group together. She assembled a diverse party of participants: Jews and non-Jews in a variety of professions (doctors, lawyers, teachers); regular visitors to Israel, and others for whom this was their first visit; people in their 30s, and others over 80 years old. Most of the team members were women, with just two men participating to preserve male honor.
"Getting in touch with KKL-JNF was the natural thing to do", says Lehrer, "as the organization is famous for its contribution to nature and water, and it provided the added benefit of enlisting sponsors for the participants". The money raised will be used for a KKL-JNF project in Israel, to be chosen by representatives of the team.
Gail Grief, Executive Director of KKL-JNF’s Eastern Region in Canada, regards the festival as a new way to attract people to Israel, promote water-related projects and raise public awareness of the importance of the issue. “They explained that the idea behind the dragon boats is that it doesn’t matter how strong you are, because you can’t succeed unless everyone pulls together. That’s a message I very much identify with. Israel, too, draws it strength from cooperation between all the different sections of the Jewish People,” she said.
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