(photo credit: KKL-JNF photo archive)
A thousand trees were contributed by the Jewish community of Wellington, New Zealand, in honour of Rabbi Haim Dovrat, their former Chief Rabbi, and his wife Tova. Relatives from all over Israel and representatives from New Zealand joined the Rabbi and his wife in dedicating the grove at a ceremony organised in their honour by KKL JNF in the Yatir Forest in southern Israel.
At the ceremony, Rabbi Dovrat said, “During the time we spent in Wellington, we gave of ourselves with a lot of love for the sake of the community. This grove attests to the love we were privileged to receive in return.”
Liz Gianoutsos, KKL-JNF President in Wellington, sent her blessings to the event, which were read at the ceremony by Daniel Frank, a member of the Wellington community. “It is an honour and a pleasure for me to be sending greetings on this special day,” wrote Gianoutsos. “Everyone who contributed to this project did so with enthusiasm, and all of us are now participating in the celebration with you. You have given a lot to our community, and for this we are very grateful.” Frank added a few of his own words of thanks to the Rabbi and the Rebbetzin for contributing so much to his personal growth over the years.
The participation of representatives of the Wellington community in the ceremony, including students, tourists and immigrants, showed that the influence of the Rabbi and his wife on the community was not bound by time or distance but would be long term and for generations to come.
Tzahi Dovrat, the Rabbi’s son, said that for him the grove symbolizes giving - the giving of his parents to the Wellington community, and the giving in return of the community to his father and mother and to the land of Israel. “A person’s roots are his family, where he grows up and is educated. The entire Dovrat clan has assembled in Yatir Forest in order to show the trees your grandchildren, of whom we are so proud.” In the years that Rabbi and Mrs. Dovrat lived in New Zealand, their children remained in Israel. Their son Tzahi concluded with a big smile and said, “The grandchildren have gotten their grandparents back, and we, their parents, are looking forward to the summer camp you'll be making for them this summer.”
The ceremony was emceed by KKL-JNF representative Avinoam Binder, who spoke about his visit to Wellington with a KKL JNF delegation in May, 1995, to celebrate Israel Independence Day there, and meeting Rabbi Haim Dovrat and his wife. He said he remembers very well the warm welcome they arranged, and he was pleased to have the opportunity to reciprocate. “Planting a grove in the land of Israel,” said Binder, “is one of the greatest ways to honour someone. KKL JNF has turned Israel green, and the grove planted by the Wellington community is part of the sacred endeavour of planting trees.”
Rabbi Adi Sultanik, a representative of Keren Hayesod, and a relative, told those present how central the role of a rabbi is in a small, distant community. “The deepening of the Jewish roots of the people of the Wellington community was in the hands of two people - Rabbi Haim and Rebbetzin Tova. Their home was always open, and their presence made life better.”
Esti Goldwasser of KKL JNF's Australia and New Zealand desk spoke about the Zionist and family values that were instilled by the Rabbi and his wife. “They worked together to inspire the people around them, both individually and as a community, to empower the nation of Israel. Today they are surrounded by friends from all over the world. Their charming family includes children who learned from their parents about the need to do for others, and grandchildren who have devoted and loving grandparents. I wish you many more years of sowing values and reaping the rewards.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, all the family members and their guests went to plant a mulberry tree together in a special spot in the forest. In addition to KKL-JNF tree planting ceremony, which includes the Planter’s Prayer and the
presentation of certificates of appreciation, the joyous event included something special this time. Daniel Frank, a New Zealander, performed a traditional Maori dance called the Haka, which includes singing and rhythmic chanting.
Yatir Forest, which now includes this new grove, is in the foothills of the Hebron Ridge northeast of Beersheba, and is the largest of the planted forests in the State of Israel. KKL JNF began planting it in the 1960s, and at present it covers an area of approximately 30,000 dunam (12 square miles). There are more than four million trees in the forest, including coniferous trees, deciduous trees, vineyards and varied brush. Yatir Forest is one of the forests assisting KKL JNF in its work of combating desertification and is part of the world struggle against global warming. KKL JNF, together with its friends all over the world, has developed scenic routes in Yatir Forest, hiking trails, archeological sites and picnic areas, providing a green lung for the inhabitants of the region, as well as a water reservoir. In the words of Rabbi Haim Dovrat, "We hope the expanses of this special forest will become a magnet for visitors from New Zealand as well."
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