A Once in a Lifetime Journey

The project is an initiative of 24 students from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who are members of StandWithUs, a fellowship that selects and trains 150 student leaders from six Israeli universities to become life-long ambassadors for Israel.

August 18, 2010 15:56

kkl-jnf. (photo credit: kkl-jnf)

Four Bloggers Experience KKL-JNF

At the beginning of August, a group of world renowned bloggers landed in Israel. They were part of the Once in a Lifetime – 2010 project, the goal of which was to allow them to see and experience daily life in Israel, and then present their impressions to their readers

The project is an initiative of 24 students from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who are members of StandWithUs, a fellowship that selects and trains 150 student leaders from six Israeli universities to become life-long ambassadors for Israel. As part of the project, an international competition was held on YouTube that challenged young people to submit a one-minute video on YouTube explaining why they should win the all-expenses paid trip to Israel.  The competition was won by Ryan Mauro, an American student studying for his master's degree in Political Science, coincidentally also a blogger. Ryan joined three other internationally acclaimed bloggers who were chosen to participate in the project – Dan Redford from the USA, Sun Jinyi from China, and Chas Newkey-Burden from Great Britain, all of whom have audiences of between thirty to forty thousand viewers.The group spent ten days in Israel, during which they became acquainted with different aspects of the country by visiting historical sites and sites related to Jewish heritage such as the Western Wall, Massada and Yad Vashem. They also visited the village of Abu Ghosh, where they learned about coexistence, along with tension spots such as the Security Fence. The group also stayed in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where they experienced Israel's nightlife, art and culture. The bloggers were also invited to the Knesset, where they met some of Israel's foremost lawmakers.

Ryan Mauro: "This experience will impact my life very powerfully, since I chose to dedicate my life and career to issues that are very important to Israel – democracy and human rights, among others. When I get back, I'll have new stories, facts and experiences to share, and the way I relate to various issues has been powerfully affected."

The bloggers devoted an entire day to visiting KKL-JNF sites and getting acquainted with the organization's diverse activities on behalf of Israel and the environment. On the seventh day of the program, the group went for a drive in a jeep to the area around Jerusalem, accompanied by KKL-JNF's Shlomo Ben Haim. The visit began at a scenic lookout at the Sataf Springs, from which there is a panoramic view of the forests planted by KKL-JNF over the past seventy years. The group received a historical overview of the site and learned about the various types of ancient agriculture still in use. "I think our guide was excellent," said Dan Redford, who climbed into every tunnel and spring the group visited. "He was able to pack so much history and so many events into a fascinating ten minute explanation. I must admit that I had no idea that KKL-JNF played such an important part in the creation of the state of Israel."

After visiting Sataf, the group hiked Springs Path in Aminadav Forest, from which they had a view of the magnificent vistas of the Judean Mountains. Shlomo told the bloggers about the importance of water recycling in Israel. Israel is one of the leading countries in the world in recycling water, with about 25% of the water used for agriculture is recycled. Tying this in with coexistence, one of the day's themes, Shlomo said that KKL-JNF had built a large water recycling plant in the Sharon region, and some of the water it produces is channeled for use by farmers in the Palestinian Authority.

The next stop was the Betar Scenic Lookout, which KKL-JNF built near Moshav Aminadav. From here there is a view of Nahal Refa'im and the mountain ridges above it. Shlomo described how spring water is used for local agriculture. In the meantime, Sun Jinyi noticed a group of Border Police who stopped for a rest at the shaded scenic lookout, and insisted on posing for a group picture with them. Afterwards, the bloggers stopped by one of the springs for a rest, tea and watermelon, along with a quick dip in the ice-cold spring water.

"I think it was a great idea to go for a KKL-JNF day right after spending two days in Tel Aviv," said Chas Newkey-Burden. "After visiting a city that was built from nothing over 100 years, it was a good idea to learn about one of the organizations that was so instrumental in the city's development."

"One of the goals of the project was to expose the bloggers and their viewers to Israel," said Tomer Naor, a student at the Hebrew University and one of the group's organizers, "and for me, Israel also means visiting KKL-JNF forests and taking a dip in a spring."

The visit concluded with a moving tree planting ceremony at Aminadav Forest, which is located near Jerusalem. The forest was severely damaged by fires that broke out during the summer. On the way to the ceremony, it was possible to see the black spots that cover extensive areas of the forests.

The ceremony was emceed by KKL-JNF's Master of Ceremony, Andy Michelson, who noted that "Israel is the only country in the world that ended the twentieth century with more trees than it had at the beginning of the century. In the past, it didn’t always seem like Israel had a strong awareness of the importance of ecology, maybe because we're always so concerned with security, but today, we are witness to a tremendous change in awareness of this topic. People apparently realized that if we wait too much longer to start caring about the environment, we won't have any environment left to care about." Michelson thanked the bloggers for having chosen to visit Israel: "People say that you really weren't in Israel if you didn't get a little of the soil on your hands. There can be no doubt that ten days actually spent in Israel is better than years of hearing news about Israel on TV."

Michael Dickson, executive director of StandWithUs, was thinking about the future: "Just as we benefit from trees that were planted by the people who preceded us, we too must plant trees, so that those who follow us might also benefit from them. There is no doubt that trees are one of the best investments a person could make in the future."

Chas Newkey-Burden, who is 37, making him the "senior" blogger, was asked to speak at the ceremony: "As a great admirer of pioneering and the Zionist pioneers, I am very moved to create my own small but significant personal connection with the land of Israel by planting a tree. Just as I hope that the trees we planted here today will bloom and prosper, so too, I hope that Israel will also bloom and prosper."

The group was especially moved when the Planter's Prayer was read. The unique blessing was read in three languages - first in Hebrew by Shai Asor, the regional director of the StandWithUs fellowship, then in English by Dan Redford, who read it with great emotion. And everyone was very surprised when Sun Jinyi read the blessing in Chinese: "I was so moved to read the blessing in Chinese to Israelis in a forest in Israel," she said later. "I hope that the tree I planted today will be the harbinger of a great friendship between me and the state of Israel."

After the ceremony, the bloggers and the Israelis who accompanied them planted trees. Shiri Cohen, one of the Israelis, taught them a song in Hebrew conveying the message that planting trees takes priority over building houses: "That's how it was in Israel. First KKL-JNF planted trees, and then the state – our home – was founded."

Nadav Yesod, one of the initiators of the project, remarked: "After ten days during which the bloggers forged strong ties with Israel, planting trees is a perfect way of completing their journey. I would like to thank KKL-JNF for giving us the opportunity to conclude the visit to Israel in such a moving way."

For additional impressions of the bloggers' visit to Israel, visit the project's website: www.onceinalifetime.org.il

The website's YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/mytrip

The bloggers:
Dan Redford: www.shanghai-exposed.com
Sun Jinyi http://blog.sina.com.cn/sunjinyi824
Chas Newkey-Burden: www.oyvagoy.com
Ryan Mauro: http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/ryanmauro/

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