(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
"Arazim Valley is part of the Jerusalem Metropolitan Park that KKL-JNF is developing around the city, in collaboration with other organizations and government institutions," said Dafna Goren, a KKL-JNF guide. She was explaining about Arazim Valley and Nahal Halilim stream to a group of Sukkot holiday hikers who braved the intense sun to participate in a tour of the park and KKL-JNF's 9/11 Memorial on the outskirts of Jerusalem. "Jerusalem residents need fresh air and open spaces, and the many visitors to the city will also benefit from it. The metropolitan park is actually comprised of three separate parks that include KKL-JNF forest groves and are being merged into a green belt around the city. And next time you come, you might want to bring bicycles – KKL-JNF is also creating a 43 kilometer bicycle path through the park for families and seasoned bikers.
"The Hebrew word arazim means cedars, but if you look around, there are no cedar trees here. The name was given to the valley in 1923. It seems that the early Zionist pioneers who first settled this region mistook cypress trees for cedar trees. In the meantime, however, KKL-JNF has planted a grove of real cedar trees, so in about fifty years from now, visitors will enjoy these majestic trees and no one will wonder about the valley's name."
After walking through the valley and the streambed that is being restored by KKL-JNF, Dafna led the group to the Telem Springs, where she told the group about the site's history: "In 1906, Zionist pioneers led by Dov Klinger purchased land here, with the intention of building an olive oil factory. Klinger was a chemist, and he found a way to make soap out of the leftover olives after the oil was pressed out of them. Unfortunately, the factory was unsuccessful and they abandoned the site. It was resettled by eight families in 1920, but they were forced to flee to Motza during the 1929 Arab riots, when they were surrounded from every direction. The Arabs found the Jews in Motza and slaughtered them all, men, women and children, except for two children who managed to escape. One of them was nine-year old Mordechai Maklef, who became the third Chief of Staff of the Israeli army.
"Arazim Valley and the Telem Springs were pretty much abandoned until recent times, when KKL-JNF and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority began restoring the site, and that's why we can visit it today."
Due to the hot summer, which dries up many of Israel's springs and other water sources, there was very little water in the springs, but Dafna showed the group a pool covered by common duckweed, an amazing freshwater aquatic plant. Israeli scientists are currently looking into the plant's medicinal qualities, as it may be possible to extract a form of insulin from it that can be taken orally. The scientific explanation may have been a bit over the heads of Sagi, Maya and Roni, three eight year old girls from Holon, but as Maya said: "I didn't understand everything Dafna said, but we wanted to throw stones into the pool, and then Dafna said that anything thrown into the pool will hurt the duckweed, so we put the stones back where we found them."
After leaving the Telem Springs, the next stop was the KKL-JNF memorial to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the initiative and donation of Ed Blank, a leader of JNF America, together with a contribution from the estate of Bronka Stavsky Rabin Weintraub. As Dafna explained, "the monument was designed by sculptor Eliezer Weishoff, who gave the tragedy tangible form by casting a US flag folded into the shape of a memorial flame in bronze. The base of the monument is inlaid with a shard of aluminum from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, and the monument’s location in Arazim Valley at the approach to Jerusalem expresses Israel's and the United State's shared battle against terrorism. The names of the 2,779 victims of the terrorist attack are inscribed on the walls surrounding the plaza."
Rahel Harel of Jerusalem said that she remembers that day only too well: "I was at home in Israel at the time. We looked at the pictures on the television screen over and over again, it was simply unbelievable. The picture of the airplanes crashing into the towers is forever imprinted on my mind. The memorial is a very moving way of expressing our solidarity with the American people."
Yossi from Holon, who was at Arazim Valley with his wife Mazal and
three of their grandchildren, said that in his opinion, Eliezer
Weishoff, the sculptor, had made a very sensitive decision regarding
the memorial's form: "He chose not to graphically express the horror
and terrible sights, but rather to sculpt a flag with a flame rising
out of it. I see it as a sort of candle and a symbol of hope and light
that ascends from the catastrophe. It fits in beautifully with the
Jerusalem landscape. I was never here before; I think it was a
wonderful initiative of KKL-JNF to build a memorial here."
The memorial can be accessed from the entrance to Nahal Arazim Park,
just right of the Beit Zayit exit from the Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv highway
(Highway No. 1), in the direction of Mevaseret Tziyon. Follow the dirt
road through the valley, which becomes a paved road at a certain point,
with signs directing drivers to the 9/11 Memorial.
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