(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
A warm breeze blew through the picturesque Grove of the Nations in the Jerusalem Forest, bringing a welcoming respite to the Jerusalem area following a several days long heat wave which had sent the temperatures soaring. It was an ideal time for Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria Mr. Werner Faymann to plant a tree, and he told guests gathered in the intimate ceremony on June 23 that he welcomed the occasion to plant his second tree in Israel.
“It is a great pleasure to participate in planting a tree a second time,” the Austrian leader said, recalling his first visit to Israel as a young parliamentarian from Vienna over 25 years ago when he also had planted a tree in Israel’s soil. “I am grateful to have this opportunity.”
The chancellor and his delegation arrived at the young grove following a moving visit to tomb of Austrian native and the founding father of Zionism Theodore Herzl and to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. The delegation included the Austrian Secretary of State Josef Ostermayer and Mr. Victor Wagner, Chairman of KKL-JNF Austria
“The great founding father of Zionism was a visionary and these deep impressions have moved all of us. These collective memories of the Holocaust must never lose their intensity,” said Chancellor Faymann, emphasizing the need to work against agents of hatred and fascism. “We have to insure that what we have in common prevails over the differences which separate us.”
After the chancellor unveiled the plaque commemorating the planting of his tree in the grove together with KKL-JNF World Chairman Mr. Efi Stenzler, he was warmly welcomed in his native German by master of ceremony Ms. Judith Perl-Strasser of the KKL-JNF European Department. She thanked him for his presence and explained the symbolism of the act of tree planting as a symbol of life, hope and peace especially when an olive tree is planted. She also explained the special significance of the Grove of Nations which for the past four years has been reserved as a place for visiting heads of states and presidents to plant olive trees. Chancellor Faymann was the 41st head of state to plant a tree in the grove.
In his greetings which followed, Mr. Stenzler reflected on the deep biblical and historical meaning of planting a tree. “According to Jewish tradition the ultimate expression of friendship is the planting of a tree,” Mr. Stenzler said. “When our forefather Abraham wanted to make a pact with Avimelek the king of Gerar he planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheva.”
Stenzler, revealing the Austrian roots of his last name, also reflected on the uniqueness of the Grove of the Nations. “It is in this forest on the slope of the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, in the capital of Israel, that leaders of nations are granted the opportunity to express their identification with the State of Israel and with the Jewish Nation,” he said. “I am delighted that you too, the chosen representative of the Austrian people, are among the long list of world leaders who have planted trees here.”
Stenzler expressed the hope for joint efforts between Austrian
governmental and private institutions and the KKL-JNF to work on
environmental issues of mutual concern. “We would be happy to
collaborate with any agency in Austria for the mutual benefit of all
parties to enhance both the physical environment and reciprocal
relations between our two nations”.
It was a long held belief of his, Mr. Stenzler said, that it is the
younger generation of leaders who are the hope for the future. “You are
among the youngest leaders in the world,” he said addressing the
chancellor. “I am sure the younger generation of leaders have to think
about the future, how to build the future of Israel, of Austria, how to
build bridges between peoples. I am sure KKL-JNF can be one of those
Before the chancellor planted the olive tree Mr. Victor Wagner
Chairman of KKL-JNF Austria addressed him in German, saying a few words
about the importance of cooperation and patience. He noted with
appreciation the chancellor’s open-minded and positive attitude towards
Israel. Mr. Wagner then recited the Planter’s Prayer in German while
Israeli Ambassador to Austria H.E. Mr. Aviv Sharon
offered the prayer
At the planting site Chancellor Faymann enthusiastically picked up a
spade, smiling broadly as he scraped dirt over the sturdy olive tree
sapling and gave it its first precious watering. He graciously accepted
the special framed certificate of appreciation presented to him by Mr.
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