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"My most outstanding impression from this, my first visit to Israel is the fascinating phenomenon of how symbols and tradition are integrated into everyday life. First and foremost, I am referring to the tradition of planting trees, with all its significance and ramifications." This was the impression of Professor Berndt Ostendorf, from Munich, Germany, an expert on American history. Professor Ostendorf is one of the members of a delegation of friends of KKL-JNF from the Munich region of Germany that arrived in Israel to visit both historical/archaeological sites and KKL-JNF projects.
The group's visit to Israel began with the dedication of a grove in memory of David Heimann, at Shehumit Hill in Kiryat Shemona, a donation of Wolfgang Hirsch, who dedicated it in memory of the family of his grandfather. Mr. Hirsh, who survived the Holocaust in Sweden and returned to Germany in 1974, sold his paintings to enable this special contribution to the grove. He actually very much wanted to come to Israel for the dedication ceremony, but he is in uncertain health being 84. Nicolas Bottke, who works in KKL-JNF Berlin, received the certificate in his name and will present it to him at a ceremony in Germany.
The plaque in honor of Mr. Hirsch's contribution joins the many other plaques at the Donor Appreciation Center in Shehumit Hill, which commemorate the contribution of friends of KKL-JNF from Germany and throughout the world who helped rehabilitate the forests of northern Israel after Lebanon War II. Shehumit Hill is the perfect spot for the Donor Appreciation Center, since it affords a view of the mountain range above Kiryat Shemona, encompasses the forests that were burned down during the war, and the sections rehabilitated through many generous, worldwide contributions.
After a number of blistering days touring the Golan Heights, Bet Shean, Tzefat, Acco and other sites, the group arrived at the Jerusalem region, where they participated in the traditional tree-planting ceremony. They were looking forward to planting oak saplings and surrounding rosemary bushes in the bare spaces of the Aminadav Forest.
During the morning hours, each of the 35 members of the group took a tender sapling in their hands and together they read the Planter's Prayer. Then they planted the seedlings in pre-prepared holes, taking pictures of the special moment. After planting an oak seedling, Professor Ostendorf spoke a bit about himself. "I had wanted to come to Israel for a long time, but I always ended up going to the United States instead on trips related to my field. Now that I have retired, I finally found the time and opportunity to visit Israel for the first time, as a guest of KKL-JNF."
Ostendorf mentioned that for years he had been active in preserving the memorial site at the Dachau concentration camp, where he also lectured to visitors. Here, he said that he was surprised to meet people in the group who had already visited Israel dozens of times in various frameworks, primarily under the umbrella of friends of KKL-JNF who are active in different and diverse fields. "I found people for whom the founding principles of KKL-JNF motivate them to push forward with enthusiasm and excitement. I am very happy to be on board for the first time and I am beginning to understand why they are so dedicated."
Reuven Barak, KKL-JNF emissary to Munich, noted that this group comprised many educated people, mostly academics, including doctors, university lecturers, teachers and engineers. For about half of them, this was their first visit to Israel and first exposure to KKL-JNF and its activities.
During the visit to three sites that were established near Hirbet Sa'adim at the foot of the Kennedy Memorial, Juliana Enger, a teacher from the city of Hagen, said, "I joined this group together with my husband, because we felt that this was an excellent opportunity to visit Israel, even though we were aware of the possibility of visiting Israel as part of various pilgrimage frameworks. We preferred this alternative and I must admit that I am very impressed by everything I have seen until now, especially by the KKL-JNF projects. Yesterday, Jana Marcus, KKL-JNF's European Desk, told us that there may not have been a State of Israel without KKL-JNF and as an outside observer this does seem to be the case. It's amazing to see what this organization has accomplished, not only with regards the purchase of lands and afforestation, but also the agricultural research & development and water conservation in such an arid part of the world like the Middle East. My husband and I just can't get over it, and I haven't even mentioned the monumental sites like Yad Vashem or Massada. It was our good fortune to have Reuven as our guide for this visit, because we see what love for this Land means through his personal life and stories."
After a comprehensive tour of the City of David excavations in Jerusalem, the group continued its journey to the south by way of the Dead Sea, to Yatir Forest and the German States Forest Grove in the northern Negev.
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