(photo credit: KKL)
Among the many groups of volunteers from Israel and abroad that have been participating in Carmel Forest rehabilitation after the terrible December fire, we met a group of six Canadian students who came to Israel for a week of working and visiting KKL-JNF sites throughout the country. The trip was initiated by Ilan Mann, 21, a senior at York University in Toronto, where he studies Fine Arts Cultural Studies. Although Ilan is very identified with Israel and has been in the country five or six times previously, he had a unique and very personal reason for wanting to come now: "I heard about the Carmel fire and was thinking about how I could help when my mother called and told me that my cousin Topaz, who was studying to be a prison guard, was one of the 44 people who were killed when their bus went up in flames near Beit Oren. When I heard the terrible news, I knew that I needed to go to Israel and be part of whatever was being done to restore the Carmel and help prevent such fires in the future."
"JNF does a lot of great work in our community and I had already approached them about organizing a mission to work in the Carmel, and our family's tragedy made this trip into a very personal journey. Now that we're here, it's been very moving and the work has been gratifying. On Sunday, we visited the site where the bus burned up and said Kaddish there. Working for the rebirth of the Carmel gave me some measure of closure, for which I am very grateful to KKL-JNF."
Michael Bon, the group's guide, spoke about how they would be spending their week in Israel: "This is an amazing group of students, three men and three women, most of whom are from Toronto, some from Montreal. They heard about the Carmel fire and felt that they wanted to do something to help, not from a distance, but here, with their own hands. Unlike many tourists who come to Israel, they are very informed about what's going on here, all of them have visited four or five times previously.
"Every morning of their stay begins with work in a KKL-JNF forest, mostly in the Carmel, but also in other forests in northern Israel. Yaakov Arak, a KKL-JNF forester, met us and told us about those three terrible days in December when 32,000 dunams of forest went up in flames. He also detailed KKL-JNF's rehabilitation plans and explained about what needs to be done now, including pruning, removing underbrush from the forest to help prevent future fires, and reconstructing recreation sites. We also planted trees at the KKL-JNF tree planting site near Lavi Forest.
"During the afternoons, we visit various places throughout Israel, focusing on KKL-JNF sites. For example, we were at Idmit Park on the northern border, where the group was especially moved to visit the Goldwasser and Regev Scenic Lookout, a gift of friends of KKL-JNF from Canada. In the south, we'll be visiting Halutsiyot, where KKL-JNF is helping to build three new settlements for Gaza Strip evacuees.
"On the first day of the trip, I spoke with the group and asked everyone to choose a personal project, to identify a place within themselves that they would like to develop and foster, something that needs to grow, just like the trees in the forest that they will be working with. Along with the powerful experience of working in the forest and helping prevent future fires, this is something they will take home with them and never forget."
Rebecca Wood-Baum is KKL-JNF Canada's Events and Outreach coordinator
and was instrumental in organizing the mission: "Everyone I know was very affected by the Carmel fire, so when Ilan came to us and spoke about organizing a mission, we were already thinking and planning in that direction. People felt a need to understand the magnitude of what had happened. They want to work not only in rehabilitation, but also to do whatever is necessary to help prevent future fires.
"Our message back home is that KKL-JNF is not just about trees and parks, but that this is an organization that is 100% Israel. Visiting Halutsiyot was very exciting for us, because KKL-JNF's projects there will be the focus of this year's Negev Dinner in Toronto. We also were at the Besor Research and Development Station in the Negev, and what they're doing there is simply amazing! All in all, there's a huge difference between hearing about something when you're on the other side of the planet and being here and getting your hands dirty and being part of restoration. This is a really great and intelligent group, and I feel very proud to be in Israel with them."
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