(photo credit: KKL)
The Coexistence Trail, which was inaugurated today, December 28th, 2010, links Moshav Dalton to the Arab village of Jish (Gush Halav in Hebrew), and thereby symbolizes the relationship between Israel’s Jewish, Christian and Arab populations. The trail is designed to serve as a meeting point for the neighboring peoples: local residents who use it for hiking or cycling will get to know one another better and strengthen existing ties.
Construction was made possible thanks to the donation of the Ergas-Lopez family of Chile. The donor, Eduardo Ergas, dedicated the trail to his mother Monica Weisner and to the memory of his late father, Isaac Ergas. This trail, which is accessible to people with disabilities, extends for 2,500 meters amid the scenery of Dalton Ridge, where a wealth of natural vegetation flourishes in company with fruit trees recently planted by KKL-JNF, all at a height of 850 meters above sea level. Benches and exercise equipment are provided along length of the trail, whose users can observe the surrounding landscape from a number of magnificent lookout points, which also provide a view of Dalton Lake, where rainwater is collected and stored for agricultural use.
A number of family members attended the inauguration ceremony, including Monica, Eduardo and his wife Patricia, together with their three children. “Every time we come to Israel we feel at home here,” said Eduardo. “It’s important to me to help in every way I can, and leave something of myself behind me here. For me, the trail is the fulfillment of a dream.”
Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who is also Minister for Negev and Galilee Development, sent a special message of congratulation that was read out during the ceremony. The trail, he said, symbolizes the possibility of cooperation and mutual respect between all the various Galilee communities.
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler told those present that, although Israel is small in size, it is large in spirit. “We live in the Jewish State,” he said, “but this country is sacred to all religions and all of humanity. The Coexistence Trail is the path that connects them all.”
Local residents were represented at the ceremony by the mayors of the regional councils responsible for each end of the trail – head of Gush Halav / Jish Council Elias Elias, and Merom HaGalil Council head Amit Sofer. Elias expressed the hope that the trail would be a landmark in the local tradition of cooperation for the benefit of all Galilee residents. Sofer said that, when he himself sometimes walks along the path in the afternoons, he always enjoys observing the special relationships in the process of being created between all the different sectors of the population.
The ceremony, which began at the end of the trail closest to Jish and later moved to the Dalton end, accurately reflected the relationship between the two cultures. After a musical interlude provided by Kibbutz Sasa’s youth orchestra, youngsters from Rehaniya performed a Circassian dance. Later in the program George Sam`an from Jish and Yair Dalal from Amirim collaborated in a uniquely exciting musical encounter: they sang love songs in Hebrew and Arabic, accompanying themselves on the violin and the oud – the traditional Arab stringed instrument that was the forerunner of the European lute.
Rabbi Yerahmiel Barilka, who conducted the ceremony, told those assembled: “No other contribution can surpass the prospect of bringing together all sectors of Israeli society, both Jews and non-Jews, and helping them to live together and walk side by side along a common path.”
After the ceremony all members of the Ergas-Lopez family who were present,
adults and children alike, went out and planted three trees together: a carob, a terebinth and, as a symbol of peace, an olive tree. “My husband and his family have deep roots in Israel, and it’s very important that the whole family share in this,” said Patricia Ergas. “Israel has played a major role in world history, and every hill and forest within it has its own story to tell. The message we want to convey is that, despite all our religious and cultural differences, we can all live in peace.”
Ten-year-old Oliver, who took part in the event together with his two elder sisters, said that he enjoyed visiting Israel. “It’s a small country, but it’s got an ancient and fascinating history,” he said. “I believe that all countries and peoples can learn to live together.”
The Coexistence Trail, however, is only the first step. The eventual plan is to develop the project into a large park that will attract large numbers of visitors and serve as a venue for an annual multicultural coexistence festival.
“If this trail enables even just a small number of people to draw closer to one another and find a common language, the effort will have been worthwhile,” said Eduardo Ergas in conclusion. “Once this project has shown itself to have succeeded, I believe that many others will want to follow our example and develop similar sites in other locations in Israel and throughout the world.”
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