"When you come to Israel with a KKL-JNF mission, you see things you would never have seen on your own, and you get a local perspective on reality. In addition, one of the most exciting experiences I've had has been seeing the infrastructures that I know we've helped fund" Paul Budovitch, a lawyer from Toronto who was one of the co-chairs of the ten-day JNF Canada Future Leadership Mission that visited Israel from July 6 – July 14, was describing why he felt that touring Israel with KKL-JNF is such a unique experience. The mission toured Israel's northern, central and southern regions, with an emphasis on diverse KKL-JNF projects throughout the country. The tour was organized and planned by Josh Cooper, director of JNF Canada's Toronto office, and Rebecca Woods-Baum, JNF Canada Executive and Outreach Program Coordinator, and judging by the descriptions of the participants, it was to a great degree in their merit that the trip was such a success. We joined the mission for their next-to-last day in Israel in order to get an idea about what they were talking about.
Tree Planting in the Gallilee
The first stop of the day was at KKL-JNF's Lavi Forest Tree Planting Center in northern Israel, where the delegation was greeted by Jessica Lawson, Head of KKL-JNF's Canadian Desk. "We usually plant trees during the winter, when the rain falls in Israel, but we wanted to give visitors an opportunity to plant trees all year long, because it's such an important way of making a connection with the land of Israel," Jessica explained. Before planting the tree, two of the members of the delegation, Heather and Jonathan read the planter's prayer in Hebrew and English respectively. As is almost always the case, tree planting was a fun and emotional experience, punctuated by exclamations like "This is the closest I've ever come to gardening," and "I want to remember exactly where this spot is so I can come back a few years from now and visit my tree."
Motorcycle ride for families of Carmel orest fire victims
The next stop was at Kibbutz Nir Etzion in the Carmel mountains, where the group met with KKL-JNF Director of Tourism Esther Weinstein, who explained about KKL-JNF's new "Forester for a Day" program: "After the devastating Carmel forest fire last December, we decided to take advantage of the public's spirit of volunteerism to invite people to work in the forest, clearing underbrush, pruning trees, and preparing fire breaks and forest paths. It's a great program, because it can be implemented anywhere there's a forest."
After watching a short movie describing the Carmel fire and the work that needs to be done to help rehabilitate it, the group boarded the bus for a short drive to a hilltop where it's possible to get a better sense of how the fire spread and how it was contained. Waiting for them at the spot were two KKL-JNF foresters, Micha and Jamal, along with one of KKL-JNF's famous yellow fire trucks.
Micha spoke a bit about his experiences fighting the fire: "I was in the forest helping prepare bicycle paths when I received a message that a fire had been spotted near the town of Ussafiya. I was the first person to arrive on the scene, and due to the strong eastern winds and the terrain, I knew this was a serious situation. I called everyone, the fire department, planes, everyone I could think of. The fire broke out at 11 AM, and by 4 PM, every available KKL-JNF forester and fire truck in the country was on the scene. The fire department was responsible for the communities, while KKL-JNF was responsible for the forests. When the fire was finally controlled a few days later, over 8,000 acres of forest had burned, a huge amount for a small country like Israel.
"As for rehabilitation efforts, we are basically letting nature take its course and incredible things are happening. We are discovering ancient agricultural terraces and archaeological ruins we previously hadn't been able to see, olive trees are sprouting all over the place, along with some rarer flora like strawberry trees. Although we will never forget the trauma of the fire, not to mention the loss of life of the prison wardens on the bus and the policemen, we now know that in the future, we will have a more beautiful, healthier and more heterogeneous forest for our children and grandchildren to enjoy."
Jamal explained about how the specially designed KKL-JNF fire truck works, demonstrating its accessories and fire hose, which everyone enjoyed directing into the nearby forest. Someone asked about the cost of the fire truck, and after hearing the price, it became clear that the KKL-JNF fleet of trucks could never have been established without the help of KKL-JNF's friends and supporters throughout the world.
Before leaving the Carmel forest, Yishai, the group's extremely able guide, took everyone to the turn in the road near Kibbutz Beit Oren, where 44 people lost their lives when a bus with young prison service cadets was trapped in the terrible fire. The cadets were on their way to evacuate a nearby prison when their bus was blocked by a literal wall of fire. The driver tried to turn the bus around, a maneuver that turned out to be impossible on the narrow road. "Prime Minister Netanyahu recently asked KKL-JNF to take responsibility for building a memorial here in order to honor these brave people, who gave their lives to save others," Yishai told the group. He then had everyone stand in a circle to recite kaddish in their memory, followed by a moment of silence.
It turned out that two members of the group, Michael Charendoff and Joel Kleinberg, were involved in a very special project related to this tragedy. Michael described it: "Last January, a correctional officer in Toronto by the name of Dave Mackinnon was watching television and heard the story of the Israeli prison service cadets who were killed. He heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say that anyone who wanted to help should contact their local JNF office. 'These are our brothers and sisters,' Dave said to his wife, Janet Miller, also a correction officer, 'and we have to do something for their families.' Dave got in touch with Josh Cooper at the JNF office in Toronto, and they discovered that they share a common passion – motorcycle riding. Joel and I also ride with Josh, so we had an idea to organize a motorcycle ride in Toronto on September 25, to raise money for the families of the prison cadets. Rebecca is taking care of the technical details and creating a fund to help with things like college tuition for the cadets' children.
"Mr. David Sweet, a member of Parliament from Dundas, who is also a biker, will
be joining us. We need people to get involved either by volunteering on the day of the ride or by donating. You don't have to be Jewish to take part, this is about a tragedy with no boundaries."
The Biofilter – revolutionary water technology
After lunch at Zichron Ya'akov, the bus started making its way back to Tel Aviv, making its last stop of the day at KKL-JNF's revolutionary biofilter at Kfar Saba, where the group was once again met by KKL-JNF's Esther Weinstein. "During your trip, I know you've heard a lot about Israel's water crisis," Esther said. "We are always looking for new water sources, and Yaron Zinger, a young Israeli doctoral student studying at Monash University in Australia, saw a cutting-edge technology there that he thought would be appropriate for Israel. It's called biofilter technology for purifying urban runoff, which is the rain water that falls on city streets. This water is polluted by oil and other materials on the roads, and until now, it was simply channeled into the sewage system or the ocean.
"The biofilter does what we call 'urban dialysis'. The runoff goes through plant roots and a series of layers of sand that remove its harmful pollutants, and at the end of the process, we have high quality water that is then reintroduced into the groundwater, which helps improve its quality. Yaron approached KKL-JNF with this idea, and both JNF Australia and KKL-JNF in Israel gave him full support. The city of Kfar Saba agreed to be the test ground for the experimental pilot, and the rest is history. Over the past winter, the biofilter successfully purified the urban runoff of the nearby neighborhood, and during the summer, it purifies polluted water from local cisterns. Other cities are now interested in biofilter technology, and KKL-JNF will be sponsoring additional pilots in other Israeli cities with different topographical conditions, with the help of its friends all over the world."
Steve and Wendy Kahane had previously been in Israel on a KKL-JNF families
tour with their children and visited many of Israel's tourist sites. "This is different," Wendy said, "because we've learned a lot more about what KKL-JNF is about. The tour's itinerary gave us an opportunity to see aspects of Israel we hadn't seen last year. And I must say, we've been kept busy from morning to evening and been everywhere from the north to the south Like most people in the group, we heard about the tour through Josh Cooper, and it's thanks to him and Rebecca that we've had such an incredible experience."
Sandra Vadasz, the other mission co-chair, said that this was her second volunteer trip to Israel: "The last time I was here, I was just so impressed by how Israel has made the desert grow, and I felt I wanted to be part of it. I spoke with Rebecca, who invited me to be a part of a group of the one hundred most influential young Jewish leaders of Toronto. We organized various events, like a Shabbat dinner and an evening with Max Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen's drummer. Being part of KKL-JNF is like being part of a family and frankly, I love it!"
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