KKL-JNF Italy Donor Appreciation Center
Dedicated near Sderot
"The names inscribed on the stones at this site tell the story of what KKL-JNF, with the support of its friends in Italy, has accomplished in the northwestern Negev since it was first settled by Zionist pioneers." Etti Lankri
, from KKL-JNF's European Desk, was speaking at a ceremony inaugurating the new Italian Donors Appreciation Center at Givat Hagamal (Camel's Hill, so called for its shape, which is similar to that of a camel), a hill just outside the city of Sderot with a panoramic view of the entire region. The audience included a group of about 20 young people from Italy who were in Israel as part of KKL-JNF Italy's Young Leadership mission. "KKL-JNF's activities include projects related to water, afforestation, river restoration, land infrastructure works and security roads, to mention just a few. KKL-JNF Italy has supported these projects in the past, and it is our hope that as a result of your visit to Israel, you will continue to be our partners to the development of the western Negev in the future." Alon Shuster
, head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, said that at the present time, the region was relatively quiet: "Here, the meaning of quiet is that the Palestinians in Gaza, only two kilometers away from this hill, are shooting less than they did previously. Before Operation Cast Lead in 2008, about 6,000 missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip into Sderot and the surrounding communities. Since then, the number has decreased to about 600. This hill provides an incredible view - you can see the fence, the security road paved by KKL-JNF, and the northern neighborhoods of Gaza City. Our task, with your help, is to enable daily life in our region to continue.
"From its very inception, Zionism was a 'joint venture' of the pioneers who came here to settle the land and Jews in the Diaspora who supported them. Together with KKL-JNF, we are earmarking resources for environmental needs. We are planning to limit development in the area you see from here, so that future generations will also be able to appreciate the natural contours of the land. This dedication ceremony is an opportunity for me to express my gratitude to KKL-JNF and its friends in Italy for all the support they have given the western Negev."
When Rafi Ovadiah
, the KKL-JNF shaliah to Italy, stood up to speak, he was greeted with a warm round of applause by the Italian mission, whom he had been accompanying ever since their arrival in Israel. "KKL-JNF has offices in Rome and Milan," Rafi said, "but we try to reach everywhere that Jews live. For me, each person is like an entire universe, and I will go anywhere where there might be someone with a potential connection to us. Italy is a very important country. Many of our KKL-JNF activists in Italy are over seventy years old. This means that in order for KKL-JNF Italy to continue its vital work on behalf of Israel, we are dependent on you, the new generation. This, I feel, is what this trip is all about, and this is my main message to you."
The Italian Donors Appreciation Site is located on the land of Kibbutz Nir Am, and Betty Gavri
, a member of the kibbutz, greeted the guests on behalf of Nir Am: "When we first came here in 1943, the area was empty. Slowly but surely the first settlers began to plant trees and till the earth. One of the early settlers, a cowboy by the name of Yantchik, planted 17 trees here, one for each of his grandchildren, including the two trees on Givat Hagamal. Since then, , in spite of the tenuous security situation, the kibbutz has continued to thrive, very much thanks to the determination of KKL-JNF in Israel and in Italy, and the support we receive from the entire Jewish people."
KKL-JNF's Elisha Mizrahi
, who is responsible for development in the Northern Negev, welcomed the guests on behalf of Ami Uliel, head of KKL-JNF's Southern Region: "We chose this site a number of years ago, and it is a great honor to be dedicating it today. Standing here, one really has a sense of what we have accomplished, from the security road to the water reservoirs, among others. Although we are currently enjoying a period of relative quiet, we never forget that the terrible sights and sounds of the past might return at any moment. On behalf of all the KKL-JNF employees who work in the northwestern Negev, I can say that it is a privilege to be involved in developing this region. We thank KKL-JNF Italy for its help in the past, and look forward to its continued support in the future."
After unveiling the dedicatory plaque and some light refreshments, the group traveled deep into the Negev, to Halutziyot, where, in the middle of what looks like desolation covered by sand, new villages are being built with KKL-JNF's help for Gaza Strip evacuees and others who will be joining them. The group was met by Moshe Brinker
, one of the local residents, who explained that each of the future communities would be home to about 300 families, with a central community named Shlomit, which is being planned for 1,500 families. "The Halutziyot villages are being built along the border with Egypt, where there is also a shared border with the Gaza Strip. There are no other settlements in this area for a thirty kilometer stretch."
Moshe took the group to the site of the future synagogue of Halutza 1, one of the new communities, which is being developed with the help of KKL-JNF Italy. "The first 50 families will be moving here before Rosh Hashanah," Moshe said. "Now everything is yellow, but in the winter there are fields green with organic vegetables as far as the eye can see. Our greatest challenge will be to provide sources of livelihood for everyone who will be living here. We believe we'll be able to break even financially within two to three years. Without the help of KKL-JNF and its friends from all over the world, we could never have even begun."
From Halutziyot, the group traveled back to Tel Aviv, where they were presented with KKL-JNF Goodwill Ambassador certificates at a ceremony attended by Avi Dickstein, Executive Director of KKL-JNF's Resources and Development Division, Rafi Ovadia and Judith Strasser-Perl.
Although this was primarily an Italian group, there were also two Canadians who had joined the tour, Doron Sayegh and Maxime Denoun
. "We were originally supposed to come to Israel with a group from Switzerland," Doron said, "but that didn’t work out. The KKL-JNF office in Canada was really helpful and connected us with the Italian group, and it's been a very enriching experience. I would recommend it to anyone. I've previously been on two or three other trips to Israel, but most of what I saw on this trip was new to me. The outdoor stuff was phenomenal. I think this sort of a tour could be a great model for other groups, which is something that Avi Dickstein, spoke with us about the other day. And KKL-JNF Italy has been fantastic hosts!"Alen Dolmani
, originally from Rome, said that he had always dreamed of
making a trip to Israel like this one: "When we saw the soldiers up
north, I felt I gained some understanding of what is in the hearts of
people who have to fight for their daily survival. On a different note,
I must say that the produce of Israel is amazing. I'm going to tell my
friends that the food here is something special. I don't believe that
there's any other country in the world with such a variety of fruits
and vegetables."Moshe Haiym Polacco
, the head of KKL-JNF's Genoa branch, is already
making plans for the group in the future: "When we get back to Italy, I
want to organize an evening for us to get together no later than
October. My idea is for everyone to share their pictures and stories,
and maybe decide on some shared KKL-JNF related project. In Halutziyot,
we saw that if a few crazy people are dedicated to a mission and a
goal, they can become a lot of crazy people realizing a mission and a
goal. That is my inspiration for KKL-JNF Italy."
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