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"The fact that the KKL-JNF leadership in Australia is holding events on Holocaust Remembrance Day to establish new joint projects between JNF Australia and KKL-JNF is highly symbolic. Friendship and cooperation are the real answer to the terrors of the Holocaust and an assurance that it will never recur." That is the message that Rob Schneider, CEO of JNF Australia, conveyed to the delegation of JNF leaders from across Australia who are on a tour of Israel entitled "Memorable Moments."
The Australian Minister for Environment & acting Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Jay Weatheril, Australian Ambassador to Israel James Larson and KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler were senior participants at a special ceremony held at Yatir Forest, under a blazing sun, to commemorate the commencement of the Twin Forest Project in Israel and Southern Australia. Everyone sat excitedly before the newly planted land, visible from the stone gate commemorating the joint initiative, and listened to the young Australian Minister, who clearly was no less moved than they were. "I attended the central memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem and that helped me understand the meaning of this ceremony that we are holding today - which is fundamentally a ceremony that expresses friendship. We, as human beings, examine friendship and kinship more scrupulously when we feel attacked. That is why it was a terrible shock for me when I saw the images from the event in Geneva - precisely as you sought to remember and remind about the Holocaust."
The guest Minister discussed the similarities between southern Australia in Israel. "Southern Australia is the most arid area in the most arid continent in the world. We are in the midst of a severe draught and there is a tangible threat to the provision of water for human sustenance. Given the similarity, we would like to absorb from you something of the Israeli initiative, vigor and innovation, which have allowed you to survive in such an environment under such conditions."
Australian Ambassador to Israel, James Larson, devoted his remarks to the great cooperation between the two countries. "The fields of research and technology in which we cooperate closely are fields through which we make real changes, building additional layers on the firm foundations of the relations between our countries. It is only when one is here, when one sees what has actually been done and how much concerted effort has been invested here, that one can understand the achievements that have already been made. I am happy to be here participating in promoting Israeli-southern Australian relations."
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler began his speech with praise. "I would like to thank the Government of Australia, which decided not to attend the conference against racism in Geneva and today, I am happy that I chose to participate in this ceremony of partnership." Stenzler underscored in his speech not only the ongoing friendship between Australia and Israel, but also the uniqueness of the site upon which the friendship forest was being planted in the Yatir Forest, an area that has been historically central ever since Biblical times. Yatir Forest, he added, serves as a symbol of good neighborliness and friendship.
Michael Naphtali, outgoing president of JNF Australia, was amongst the initiators of the Friendship Forest project. Naphtali noted the historic role played by Australian soldiers during World War One in liberating the Negev from the centuries-old Ottoman-Turkish occupation and the profound connection between Australian history and the Negev. "However, no less important than the very planting of twin forests here and in southern Australia and pushing back the desert in the two countries, is the ongoing exchange of knowledge and technology. We are proud and deeply moved by the realization of this project,"
CEO of JNF Australia Rob Schneider, who conducted the ceremony, announced that the planting of the twin forest in southern Australia was to begin forthwith, and that Australia and Israeli experts were currently examining jointly the best site on which to plant that forest.
The delegation of JNF Australia leaders arrived for a ten-day visit to Israel, during which they toured dozens of sites and projects supported by Friends of JNF Australia - both projects that have been carried to completion whose results are visible and others that are in planning stages in the near future or in progress. The delegation spent the first day of its tour of the Negev, visiting memorial sites in honor of the Australian Cavalrymen who defeated the Turks in the area during World War One. They toured the remnants of Jewish settlements in the Yatir Forest and the important archeological site in Sussiya, both dating back to the Second Temple era, and were impressed by the clear signs of ancient Jewish culture that existed in large, well-established communities across the Negev.
The delegations' second morning touring the Negev began with a visit to the Shoket reservoir, built in to absorb the industrial sewage that flows from the southern Hebron hills. The sewage water is treated at a large purification plant and recycled for farming purposes, thus expanding areas for agriculture to the north of Beersheba by thousands of dunams. Eli Rothschild, the living spirit behind the water plants in the Negev and one of the first settlers on Kibbutz Hatzerim near Beersheba, joined the delegation for the day, accompanied by the head planner of the water plants, Nimrod Halamish, and Dror Caravani, who oversees planning in the Bnei Shimon Regional Council.
Standing at the new lookout near Kibbutz Lahav, soon to be officially consecrated, the delegation could see the site on which will begin construction of another new water reservoir, with a capacity of approximately two million cubic meters of purified water, for improvements of the farmland in the area. This lookout, which will be in honor of Ray and Tom Mandel of Australia, shows a map of the Bnei Shimon Region, where it is located, with a detailed indication of water plants and forestation projects that KKL-JNF has undertaken within the council area that have improved the quality of life for Negev residents.
At the renewed community of Shomriya, the delegation held a moving meeting with repopulated residents who were recently evacuees of Atzmona in Gush Katif. They described their personal histories, their evacuation from Sinai to Atzmona in 1971, their evacuation from Atzmona in 2006 and their eight-month stay in a tent encampment, until the way was found to resettle them on land of Kibbutz Shomriya. The original residents of the kibbutz were members of the Shomer Hatzair movement who had difficulties sustaining the kibbutz. The delegation received first-hand impressions of the positive spirit and Zionist tenacity that have guided this determined community throughout the entire length of their arduous lives. Here too, with contributions of Friends of JNF Australia, a playground was built for the hundreds of children of Shomriya.
This moving day of visits ended on Moshav Nevatim, south of Beersheba, where the Founders' Park was consecrated at the center of the moshav. The park was built with the contribution of the Australian Moses family, honoring the late father of the family, Aslan J. Moses of Sydney, one of the central JNF Australia activists. The delegation lingered at the entrance to the Museum of Cochin Jewry - the community in India from which came the residents of Nevatim - where children of Nevatim welcomed them with songs and waving flags. The Australian Minister for Environment, who joined the delegation's tour for the day, stood moved and smiling amidst dozens of celebrating children who surrounded them.
Hundreds of residents of Nevatim and their guests attended a ceremony that expressed their appreciation and love for Aslan Moses. "We owe great thanks to the Moses family and especially to the father of the family, not only for the large contribution that made the establishment of the Founders' Park in Nevatim possible, but also for the ongoing activity of the entire family," said Avraham Duvdevani, KKL-JNF Co-Chairman, during the ceremony. "Aslan Moses, who was among other things the treasurer of JNF in Sydney, brought the members of the Sephardic community in Sydney into the folds of Friends of JNF Australia. It is my pleasant duty to say a big thank you to the Moses family and the leadership of JNF Australia for the establishment of this park, which will serve as an attraction to a great many visitors."
Aslan's eldest son, David Moses, spoke for the family. "I admit that I am deeply moved by this occasion. Father is certainly looking down at us from up above and he is very proud of us just as we were proud of him and his way. I want to give a lot of credit to our mother, Sarah, for having encouraged father in his activities throughout all those years." At the end of the ceremony, the memorial plaque in honor of Aslan Moses was unveiled, positioned at the edge of the Founders' Park near the entrance to Nevatim's magnificent synagogue.
CEO of JNF Australia Rob Schneider, who fondly recalled Aslan Moses's involvement in JNF activity in Australia, spoke of the goals of the delegation's visit. "We want to show our central activists from across Australia, the breadth of JNF Australia's life-giving projects throughout Israel. One emphasis of our visit is the dedication of the Yarkon River rehabilitation project and the Bird's Head Park, established in honor, and in memory, of the Australian delegation to the Maccabiyah who died in the disaster of Ù¡Ù©Ù©Ù§, when the bridge collapsed. We are dedicating this park in honor of the Ù¡Ù Ù th anniversary of the founding of Tel Aviv to its residents as a living memorial and a gift.
"This current delegation has important and unique characteristics. For the first time, we are joined by members of the family of an Elder of the Australian Aboriginal community, the late William Kuper, who in Ù¡Ù©Ù£Ù¨ committed an act of unsurpassable courage when he stood in front of the German embassy in Melbourne in a one-man demonstration to protest the events of Crystalnacht in Nazi Germany. We are commemorating that courageous act with a special ceremony in the Kedoshim Forest in Jerusalem, which will be attended by William Kuper's family members. The delegation also salutes the residents of the Arava in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of agricultural settlement in the Arava. We will also visit the town of Yeruham, happily returning the visit of Mayor Amram Mitzna to Australia, in the wake of which we enlisted the community of JNF Australia to support the planting of groves around Yeruham and to establish a central boulevard in the city."
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