(photo credit: )
KKL-JNF's Aminadav tree planting center near Jerusalem has seen many diverse and moving tree planting ceremonies, but the ceremony that took place on Sunday, 20th December, will surely stand out in the memory of everyone present. A group of 350 pilgrims from Taraba State in Nigeria had come for, the most part, their first visit to Israel. Josephine Zinder, president of Tailor Made Tours, responsible for the group's arrangements, told us: "You can't imagine how excited they are to be planting trees in the soil of the Holy Land. These people are industrious farmers and are very connected to the land. Many of them told me that this event is even more emotional for them than the visit to Mount Sinai."
In anticipation of the tree planting ceremony, the group gathered in the shade of the trees, singing melodies from their home country, moving gracefully to the gentle rhythms of the joyous tunes. They sang of faith and laughter and gave thanks to God for bringing them to the Holy Land.
Eran Zavadi addressed the group on behalf of KKL-JNF. "It is a special honor to greet you here today and I am particularly moved by your singing. There is a Jewish legend that when we sleep at night we hear the angels sing, but God makes us forget the sound of the angels when we wake up in the morning as otherwise we would not be able to bear everyday life. Your beautiful singing almost made me forget what I wanted to say!
"It is a long way from the Tabara River to Jerusalem. Your love and commitment to your religion has inspired you to fulfill the commandment "when you come to the Land, you shall plant trees" from Leviticus 19:23. KKL-JNF began to care for our land 108 years ago and thanks to KKL-JNF, this site has undergone unimaginable changes. Try to imagine it as it was seventy years ago, barren and desolate and now see how it has come to life. Thanks to the love of thousands of people, over 240 million trees have been planted in Israel by KKL-JNF. Today, you have all made the personal choice to come to Jerusalem to plant a tree in Israel. A person who plants a tree acknowledges his responsibility towards the earth and we congratulate you for choosing to bestow life."
Josephine Zinder was clearly in love with the group, and it was evident that the feeling was mutual. "There can be no doubt that your visit here today is part of the Divine plan. Taraba is the most important state in Nigeria and there is an unbelievable connection between Israel and Tabara. Of course it is first and foremost a spiritual connection, but also one based on mutual interests such as agricultural innovations. We appreciate and love you, and are excited to be with you here today. You are blessed and privileged to be here in the Holy Land and we feel blessed and privileged to be here with you."
Josephine called upon the Leader of the Delegation, His Majesty and Royal Highness Dr. Shekarau Angyu Masa Ibi the Second, the "Aku Uka" who is also the Chairman of the Council of Chiefs and Chancellor of the Tabara University of Technology, to bless the audience. The "Aku Uka" spoke with quiet dignity as everyone stood to receive his blessing.
"We are grateful to be in the historical Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, the Land of Israel, the land that gave us our Savior. We thank God for the ability to plant trees and to express our love and thanks to the God of Israel. We will never forget to pray for peace and blessing for Jerusalem and we know Jerusalem will be blessed. We pray to merit being worthy of this special ceremony. We are not here by chance. God has brought us here to accomplish something, to do something good for Israel. It is our duty to thank God for keeping Israel. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to experience this religious ceremony. The Land of Israel and the Middle East need our prayers for peace.
"It is a great privilege to breathe the air and walk the land where our Savior walked. Today we are celebrating our love of the nation of Israel. We are celebrating the joy of the salvation of our souls. We are celebrating that our names are not only written on the tree-planting certificates we are receiving but are also inscribed in the Book of Life. Long live the State of Israel! Long live Taraba state! Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
After the Aku Uka's moving words, Reverend Doctor Innocent Solomon, the chairman of the Taraba State Pilgrims Welfare Board, read the Planters Prayer in English. Each of the 350 visitors was given a sapling to plant, and the group sung and danced all the way to the planting site.
Augustine Awoshiri, a local government employee, said that this experience would change his life. "God brought me here. I have been learning the Gospels and the Bible, but seeing the practical aspects of the Holy Land is something entirely new. I feel new strength to go back home and preach the word of God and to inspire people to emulate His ways."
Amina U. Usman, a teacher, said that planting a tree in Jerusalem was one of the highpoints of her visit. "We are all here thanks to God's grace. This is an experience I will not forget my entire life."
Revered Solomon is no newcomer to Israel; in fact, this was his seventh visit here. "I am involved in various interfaith activities and as a Christian feel a deep tie to the Holy Land. Although I have led many missions to Israel in the past, this is the first time we have planted trees and it is wonderful. Almost everyone here is visiting Israel for the first time. The group includes 48 pastors, who will be telling their congregants back home in Nigeria about what it means to be in Israel and the amazing accomplishments of the Israeli people."
For more information, please visit our website at www.kkl.org.il/eng or e-mail email@example.com