(photo credit: KKL)
The playground equipment and sports facilities at Halochem Park in Haruvit Forest were renovated and made accessible to the physically challenged, thanks to a donation of friends of KKL-JNF from Uruguay. The newly renovated recreation area was dedicated at a moving ceremony that took place in the presence of a delegation of friends of KKL-JNF from Latin America, the ambassador of Uruguay to Israel, immigrants from Uruguay currently living in Israel, and the families of the donors.
Halochem Park, which covers an area of 300 dunams in the Lower Judean Plain, was established in cooperation with the Israeli Disabled War Veterans, with the goal of enabling people with physical disabilities to enjoy spending time in nature. The park is open to the entire public, and many families come to this site for outdoors activities. Renovations included creating soccer fields and basketball courts, and building underground garbage containers for recycling garbage. The site is particularly suited for the physically challenged thanks to the user-friendly paths, which provide access to the picnic tables and every spot in the park.
Raquel Lerman, who contributed towards renovating the site in memory of her parents, said at the ceremony: "I am very proud of the opportunity to be a part of this important project, as a member of the Jewish community of Uruguay. It is our duty to promote the integration of people in wheelchairs, particularly those who were wounded in the course of defending our country. A person with disabilities also has a right to spend time in nature, independently and freely. There is no better way than a forest to convey this message, because to plant a tree is to plant hope."
The Latin American delegation, which included 75 friends of KKL-JNF from Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, was in Israel for two weeks of tours to deepen their knowledge of Israel and KKL-JNF sites, including those that were built with the help of contributions from their countries of origin. In addition to the dedication of the renovated park in Haruvit Forest, the Shmuel Shirom path was also dedicated in Yatir Forest, a contribution of friends of KKL-JNF from Argentina.
Lerman nostalgically remembered how during her childhood, every home in Uruguay, even the poorest, had a little Blue Box, where people donated for KKL-JNF: "I am very happy that we are can cooperate with KKL-JNF on such a wonderful project, one that combines my love for two countries, Uruguay, which is my homeland, and Israel, where I have made my home. I am very happy that in the merit of my parents' memory, many people will be able to enjoy the wonderful facilities that the park provides."
Michael Adari, KKL-JNF liaison to Latin America, spoke about the strong ties between the Jewish community in the Diaspora and Israel, emphasizing that Israel is the country of all the Jewish people, regardless of where they live. "This park is dedicated to the soldiers of the Israeli army, who fought and were wounded in combat in order to ensure our security and to enable us to be here today," Adari added. "KKL-JNF policy is to open the forest to the entire Israeli public, including people with disabilities."
The ambassador of Uruguay in Israel, Mr. Bernardo Greiver, thanked KKL-JNF for its environmental and social orientation. "The deeper a tree's roots are, the higher it can aspire," the ambassador said. "It is good that there are people living in Uruguay who have roots in Israel, and that there are people living in Israel with roots in Uruguay. This park, which expresses concern for others, fits in very well with Uruguay's two hundredth year of independence, which is being celebrated this year."
The Donor's Appreciation Center commemorates the people in whose name the donations were made: Santiago Lerman & Rosa Glina de Lerman, Sara Krakowska, Sara Kasztan and Jacobo Rozenbaum.
As she stood next to the plaque commemorating her parents, Raquel Lerman
said that "creating a park full of the joy of life and the sound of children's laughter in the middle of nature is the most beautiful way possible of commemorating our dear departed ones."
Haruvit Forest covers an area of 8,000 dunams that includes carob trees, eucalyptus, cedar and pine trees. KKL-JNF created recreation areas in the forest with the help of various organizations, including: the Association of Bulgarian Immigrants, Bank Leumi, Bank Discount, Hadassah Women's Organization, Kupat Holim Clalit, among others. The forest has a scenic road for cars, scenic lookouts and a paved nature path that traverses ancient agricultural installments, caves, oil presses, water cisterns, remains of terraces and sculptures.
On weekends and holidays, many families fill the park, coming for a picnic in the forest, hikes, bicycle trips, or just to spend time in nature with the children. On weekdays, there are groups from schools and various institutions.
Indeed, the park was full of visitors during the mission's visit, including students from Ulpana Tzivya in Kibbutz Hafetz Hayim. Dozens of students from seventh to ninth grades enjoyed the playground equipment, which is usually intended for younger children. Fourteen-year old Yael Bozaglo: "It's really fun to come to the forest on such a nice day, and it helps bring our class together. The place is clean, beautiful and well cared-for, and the great equipment adds a lot."
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