(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
"The Israel National Trail was first inaugurated in 1995, and since then, it has become a favorite trek for both Israelis and also for visitors from abroad. National Geographic described it as one of the most important trails in the world. In honor of its 111th anniversary, KKL-JNF is promoting walks for families and for experienced hikers along segments of the Israel Trail that go through KKL-JNF forests and parks." Tal, a KKL-JNF National Service volunteer, was explaining about the Israel Trail to a group of families who came on Succot to KKL-JNF's Lahav Forest, despite the constant shelling of Israel's south by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The group met at the Joe Alon Center for Regional Studies, which was named after Colonel Joe Alon of the Israeli Air Force, who was mysteriously murdered in 1973. The center is located in the heart of Lahav Forest, in the southern highlands of the Judean Plain, and commands an impressive view of much of the northern Negev. It specializes in the geography of Israel, particularly that of the Negev, and includes a museum of Bedouin Culture. Tal led the group to an observation deck on the roof of the Center, where there is a stunning panorama of the surrounding area and the KKL-JNF forests planted in the region.
"Lahav Forest was planted by KKL-JNF in 1952," Tal continued. "It was later expanded by new immigrants during the 1960s, and presently has over 3,000,000 trees on an area of about 30,000 dunams. The forest was planted with the help of friends of KKL-JNF in Israel and around the world, including Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, USA and England. "
The group followed the orange, blue and white markers of the Israel Trail up a hill to the Rimon Ruins, where there are remains of an ancient Jewish synagogue from the Second Temple era. The inhabitants of this village comprised the remnant that had not been exiled to Babylon.
After hiking back to the Joe Alon Center, the group drove in their cars to the Teva Forest, where KKL-JNF National Service volunteers were putting up a succah and leading activities for the children. Teva Forest was planted by the management and employees of Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Company to promote afforestation in the Negev and for the benefit of the general public. Activities included themes related to the Succot holiday, KKL-JNF, the Negev and the Israel Trail.
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