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A KKL-JNF Succoth family excursion to the Jerusalem Forest gave those taking part an opportunity to enjoy the best of all worlds: profuse vegetation, charming beauty spots, historical sites and children's play facilities - all culminating in a flute concert in enchantingly beautiful surroundings
Nature lovers have long been familiar with KKL-JNF excursions, which provide an enjoyable day out for all the family. We joined one of these tours, which took place during the week of Succoth along Jerusalem Forest's Cedar Trail. About 80 people - adults and children from all over the country - took part. Everyone enjoyed getting out into the countryside and appreciated the magical views of the Jerusalem hills, the varied Israeli vegetation and the beauty spots that KKL-JNF has created along the route of the Cedar Trail.
Momi Sheetrit from Ashdod: "We have such a beautiful country, and our family seizes every chance to go on the trips organized by KKL-JNF. It's very important to us that the children take part in these excursions and get in touch with nature."
Or Talshir (11) from Nes Tziona said: "Our family has been going on KKL-JNF trips ever since I was a baby. I love walking in the countryside." Her brother, Erez, added, "It's fun walking with the family, and with the friends we've made on previous trips."
The excursion starts in Australia playground, a recreation area with play facilities and a slide for children, contributed by Friends of JNF Australia. Three-year-old Michael, an Argentinian immigrant who now lives in Jerusalem, had come to enjoy the playground with his father and brother. "I like to come here to play and climb," he said. His four-year-old brother Nunas added, "I like to dance and put on performances in the woods." Their father, Gustavo, who also immigrated from Argentina, concluded, "We go on a lot of trips together and greatly enjoy the woods and the playground."
The trail passes by the KKL-JNF pensioners' recreation area, which is situated close to an olive grove, an orchard and cedars planted on ancient terraces. The path continues down to a eucalyptus spinney equipped with picnic tables and a children's playground. Close at hand is an old reservoir pool, an aqueduct system, an ancient wine press and the remains of a guard post - all evidence of earlier agricultural activity in the area.
Tal Salem, the tour guide: "It's a great experience to go out into the countryside with families who've come from the town. It's a revelation to them. They breathe clean air and open up." The walkers do not forget to visit Fig Cave, further along the trail, for an "air-conditioned" break on a hot day. The cave, about five meters deep, takes its name from the majestic fig tree that grows inside it.
Not far away is the famous Ben Gurion cedar, so named because the first prime minister of Israel planted it in 1958 with his own hands.
Aharoni Tzhor of Mazkeret Batya: "Apart from being fun, it also teaches us to know, love and look after the countryside. These trips have made us all more aware of the need to conserve nature." His wife Sarit adds, "It's important to us to get to know different parts of the country, and KKL-JNF gives us the opportunity to do just that." Their three children - Oren, Shachar and Erez - definitely agree. Five-year-old Oren: "I like to wander around in the forest and see the pine trees whose name is exactly the same as mine" (oren is Hebrew for "pine"). His sister Shachar (12) adds: "It's terribly important to look after the environment, that's why we've got to protect the forests." Tomer sums up: "We learn a lot of things about nature on KKL-JNF trips, but the best part is climbing trees."
Six-year-old Tamir from Petah Tikva is walking around with a bag, picking everything she comes across - pine cones, herbs and various types of Israeli flora: rockroses (Cistus), thorny burnet (Poterium spinosum) and many other species that the woodland has to offer. "It's fun to walk through here and see all the plants," she explains.
The trail leads into the Ontario recreational area, Jerusalem Forest's main recreational spot, created with the help of donations from Friends of KKL-JNF Canada. A lookout platform provides a magnificent view of Beit Zayit reservoir, and the site is equipped with a children's playground, a sports area, picnic tables, toilets and drinking water facilities - all with disabled access.
Here, below the recreation area, the excursion comes to an end with a concert from flautist Ruti Itzcovitch-Eyal. The beautiful scenery provides a unique backdrop to the performance. The children's happy shouts as they, too, try to make music, contribute to an unforgettable experience.
Jerusalem Forest, which was planted in 1956, today covers an area of around 1,200 dunam (about 300 acres). In the past it sprawled over 4,500 dunam (about 1,125 acres), but massive local development over the years has reduced its size. Those who love the forest fear that continued development in the future will further damage the woodland. Hagit Davis, who helped to organize the excursion on behalf of the Yuvalim Community Center and the Zippori Center, sums up the situation: "It's very important for us to encourage people to walk in the Jerusalem Forest and help them become more aware of the importance of conserving the woodland."
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