(photo credit: )
Sukkot is a wonderful time of year for visiting KKL-JNF's forests and parks, when the summer heat has passed and the cold winter has not yet set in. And in fact, hundreds of thousands of visitors chose to spend time in nature, taking advantage of the many and diverse activities KKL-JNF prepared for them. We joined a group walking the Leon & Genendel Schuster Scenic Walking Route in American Independence Park in the Judean Hills, which was led by Meir Cohen, a retired KKL-JNF forester who seemed to know everything about the flora and fauna that make this 1.5 kilometer walk a perfect holiday activity for body and soul.
The group met at the Nes Harim Visitor Center, a gift of Jim and Sue Schiller of Baltimore, one of the many sites and attractions of American Independence Park that were created and are supported thanks to the generosity of friends of JNF America.
Mazal Zechariya of Petach Tikva came with her husband, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren - altogether a group of ten. "We were looking for something to do that would work for all three generations, so a friend of my daughter told her that KKL-JNF would have the perfect solution for us. I love Jerusalem and the surrounding hills and I participate in the Jerusalem March every year."
The Schuster trail is a circular route around a mountaintop overlooking Nahal Katlav, and includes native Mediterranean forest along with pine trees planted by KKL-JNF. Meir, our guide, told the group about the pines and about KKL-JNF history and theory of afforestation. "When the idea of creating KKL-JNF was first brought to the third Zionist Congress 108 years ago, the representatives scoffed, saying that Jews could never be transformed into tomato growers who would live off the land. Herzl had to intervene personally in order to have the Congress pass the resolution creating KKL-JNF. The laws of the Ottoman Empire stipulated that untilled land would revert to the original owner, so KKL-JNF's first agronomists decided to plant pine trees, which grow very quickly, wherever it was impossible to farm the land. KKL-JNF was then accused of turning Israel's landscape into a 'conifer wilderness' but over the years, it turned out that trees indigenous to the region such as oaks, terebinths, pistachios, carobs and olives, developed in the shade provided by those pines. You can see the results here today."
Meir seemed to have an inexhaustible knowledge of the medicinal uses of various trees and shrubs. He recommended chewing a leaf of the pistachio tree for heartburn, showed us red berries with natural insulin and said that a daily cup of pine needle tea would lower high blood pressure, to mention only a few of his suggestions. He also explained about the geological history of the region, which was once underwater, and how different sorts of rocks were created by the residues of seashells and other processes. Minute details, which would easily be overlooked by a chance visitor, became treasure houses of information and stories, which were enthusiastically received by adults and children alike.
Towards the end of the walk, Meir led the group to concrete bunkers that dated back to the 1948 War of Independence. "Don't stand on top of the bunkers, they were built by contractors who skimped on materials and pieces just break off. In 1948, Ben Gurion ordered the Harel Armored Brigade to capture the area from Beit Shemesh to Nes Harim. In fact, the Arabs in the local villages fled before there was a need to fire a shot. Legend has it that the soldiers stationed on this hilltop shot a few bullets into the bunkers so they could say that they conquered the region after a bloody battle. Whatever the case, here we are today in the most pastoral of settings, thankful to hear birds singing rather than bullets whistling by."
Oranit, whom we met with her husband Yitzhak and three children, May, Liron and Hugi, said that she knew KKL-JNF would provide the perfect family outing. "We looked in the KKL-JNF website and that's how we found out about today's hike. We had a great time, but what's even more important is that the children really enjoyed it - including the explanations."
"We came to British Park last Pessach: the Judean hills are amongst our favorite areas," said Zahava & Yitzhak Cohen. "When our children were young, we took them hiking in the valley below, in Nahal Katlav. Now, years later, here we are on the mountaintop overlooking the streambed, this time with our grandchildren."
Avi & Michal Shapira of Rishon Letziyon summed up. "The hike was informative, the scenery was beautiful and the guide really knew his stuff. We look forward to our next KKL-JNF outing!"
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