(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
“The Land of Israel has always been beautiful, but thanks to the people present here, today it is even more so,” said President Shimon Peres. “I regard the development towns as a miracle. Each one of them has faced multiple difficulties – unemployment, social problems, security problems, and moreover, a poor image. But despite all the difficulties, the development towns have succeeded, within a short period of time.”
The Yakir Awards are presented by the Council to philanthropists who have dedicated their lives to advancing the quality of life and environment in Israel, and the Magshim Awards are bestowed upon selected projects which are deemed as outstanding in their contribution to Israeli society. Both awards are presented annually at the President's Residence. This year, it was decided that the Magshim award should go to the development town project. KKL-JNF was involved in organizing the ceremony, together with the Council for a Beautiful Israel and the Center for Local Government.
“Heroic actions determined the borders of the Israeli State, but it was the development towns that determined the character of our country, and this is the true map of Israel,” said KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler. He reminded his audience that the development towns were settled mainly by immigrants, many of whom were employed at the time by KKL-JNF to plant forests, in order to offset the lack of other jobs. “Through this forestry work, both the trees and the people put down roots here,” he said.
In his speech, Stenzler emphasized how KKL-JNF had collaborated on a large number of projects with the development towns and communities on Israel's periphery – preparing land for settlement and agriculture, establishing parks, building water reservoirs, etc. “KKL-JNF has left its mark on every development town,” he said, and added that in the past five years, KKL-JNF has invested about one billion NIS in peripheral communities, with the help of Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.
Center for Local Government Chairman Shlomo Buhbut defined the development towns as “one of the State’s finest projects.” He expressed his regret that the public is not always made aware of the wonderful things that take place in the development towns, and concluded by saying that “the development towns are the Beautiful Israel.”
Avraham Katz-Oz, Chairman of the Council for a Beautiful Israel, said that the contribution made by the development towns has continued for the past 60 years, from the time of their establishment until the present day. “We salute the development towns, we thank them, we congratulate them and we are fortunate to have them all,” he said.
Yakir Israel Yafa Awards were presented at the ceremony to Swiss philanthropist Philippe Nordmann and Israeli businessman Morris Kahn, who have invested extensively in education, society, the environment,
research and technology. “I feel that I am a partner in the establishment of the development towns, and I’m especially proud of my contribution to the quality of the environment in Israel,” said Kahn. In his speech Nordmann emphasized his great love for the State of Israel, and his desire to see it thrive and succeed.
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Mayors and representatives of thirty-five Israeli development towns took part in the ceremony and were presented with certificates of appreciation. A video film portrayed the human mosaic of the various development towns and the Shirat HaAtzabim ('Song of the Nerves'-a Hebrew word play on the title of the famous Israeli song Shirat HaAsavim- 'Song of the Grasses') comedy troupe from the Tzavta Theater presented a humorous tribute, complete with songs that stressed the unique character of each of the development towns.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, which was conducted by media personality Oded Ben-Ami, the participants went their separate ways, all promising to return in sixty years’ time to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the development towns. President Peres prompted gales of affectionate laughter when he promised with a broad smile to host the event personally.
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