(photo credit: Internet)
"In 1944, 66 years ago, a group of Moroccan Jews who were planning to make aliya to Israel planted trees in Casablanca on behalf of KKL-JNF. We sang Hebrew songs at the top of our voices, we raised the blue and white flag on high, and we concluded by singing Hatikva, our national anthem. It was one of the most moving moments of my life." Mr. Solomon Azulai of Casablanca, Morocco, was being quoted at a ceremony at the KKL-JNF Donor Recognition Center in Kiryat Shemona, where he dedicated a forest grove donated by Moroccan Jewry to help rehabilitate the forests of Israel's northern region that were burnt during the Second Lebanese War. Mr. Azulai had asked his friend, Rafi Baziz, to read his remarks in Hebrew.
"Israel is my country, everything I have done for her gives me tremendous satisfaction, but this is not about satisfaction. Supporting Israel is a moral imperative; this is how I have felt my entire life."
Solomon Azulai was joined at the ceremony by friends, family, community leaders and businessmen from Kiryat Shemona. His son George, who heads the regional district court, was also in the audience, along with Solomon's granddaughter Ma'ayan. Special guests included a group of soldiers from the Ma'ale Adumim School of Aviation, who came to express their gratitude to Mr. Azulai for donating sports equipment and playing courts to their school.
Michael Ben Abu, director of KKL-JNF Israel fundraising department, spoke on behalf of KKL-JNF: "Collaboration between KKL-JNF and the city of Kiryat Shemona intensified after the Second Lebanese War. I am very proud to dedicate the Moroccan Jewry forest grove. Trees are a KKL-JNF symbol – they have roots, which symbolize the past; trunks, which remind us of the present; and leaves and fruits, symbols of the future. Solomon Azulai is a man who has benefited from the experience of the past, he supports Israel in the present, and the soldiers who are with us here today represent our future."
Mr. Ben Abu read greetings from Avi Dickstein, executive director of KKL-JNF's Resources and Development Division: "I would like to express our gratitude to Mr. Solomon Azulai for his help in restoring the forests of the northern Galilee. Thank you for your leadership, vision and contribution, which express the eternal bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel."
Rabbi Nissim Malka, the mayor of Kiryat Shemona, quoted from the weekly Torah portion: "This Shabbat, we will be reading the verse, 'And Jacob remained alone.' Israel's fate is to be alone among the nations. We know that we have one land, one people, and one God, and this knowledge makes us strong. Kiryat Shemona is our home, and it will continue to prosper and to grow. Trees grow, and people grow. During the war, the Israeli army was stationed at this beautiful spot, from which there is a view of the entire city. From here the soldiers could see exactly where the Katyusha rockets fell so that they could direct the emergency forces to the scene. My prayer is that in the future, we should only come to this hill to celebrate the planting of trees, as we are today."
The ceremony was graciously emceed by KKL-JNF's Etti Lankri: "God created the world, but He also wants us to take part in the act of creation. It is a privilege for the people of Israel to continue afforesting the Land of Israel. During the Second Lebanese War, 800,000 trees were burnt, and thanks to people like Solomon Azulai, the forests of northern Israel are being restored."
Mr. Haim Bargil, a historian and anthropologist who is an expert on Oriental Jewry, has been a friend of Solomon Azulai for many years: "Among the guests present at today's ceremony are a number of people who were active in the Jewish Zionist underground in Morocco during the 1950s. We are here to celebrate with Solomon Azulai, who is a walking historical legend. The story of Solomon's life is the story of dedication to the Jewish people and to Israel. He took personal responsibility for Holocaust survivors who fled to Morocco. His house was like an Israeli embassy in Morocco, and many times, he did things on Israel's behalf at great personal risk, but he was never afraid. When we lived in Morocco, I never dreamed that a day would come when I would be dedicating a forest donated by Moroccan Jewry in the land of Israel. Long live the state of Israel, long live Solomon Azulai, and may we all be blessed with peace and selfless love for all of Israel."
The head of the local chapter of the Association of Moroccan Jews, Mr. Pinto, spoke about life in Kiryat Shemona: "Kiryat Shemona is a symbol of the Jewish struggle. During the last Lebanese war, 4,000 Katyusha rockets fell on the north, 1,000 of them on Kiryat Shemona. The Moroccan community in Israel has built 13 cities and 45 villages, and is at the forefront of all aspects of Israeli society. We never believed in keeping separate, but rather in the total integration of all the different ethnicities of the Jewish people."
Rafi Baziz, a KKL-JNF volunteer who read Solomon Azulai's remarks to the
audience, said that today, the Jewish community in Morocco numbers
2,500, 90% of whom live in Casablanca. Most of the children are sent
abroad at the age of thirteen, and the parents usually follow. At the
ceremony, he noted that "ever since he was a young man, Solomon was a
pioneer who helped lead the Jewish community of Morocco. He fought in
Israel's wars, including serving in the Palmach. He is a man who is rich
in deeds, and anything that is connected to Israel is also connected to
Even though he had not originally intended to do so, when Rafi Baziz
finished reading his pre-prepared remarks, Solomon Azulai went up to the
speaker's podium and spoke in perfect Hebrew: "I am not used to
speaking in Hebrew in public, but I feel that I must speak on this
special day. What can I add to everything everyone has said? I am very
proud, I am very moved. Everything that has been said is about the past,
but what is important is that we continue supporting our country and
KKL-JNF in the future. With great joy and love, I thank you all."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Etti Lankri invited the honored
guests to unveil the plaque at the Kiryat Shemona Donors Recognition
Center. Solomon surprised Michael Ben Abu when he handed him an envelope
with yet another contribution to KKL-JNF from the Moroccan Jewish
community. The touching ceremony concluded with the singing of Hatikva
and light refreshments.