(photo credit: KKL)
Almost 14 years after the collapse of the Maccabiah Bridge, the leadership of the JNF Australia unveiled a new plaque marking the Yarkon River rehabilitation project at Hod Hasharon. At the time, four Australian athletes lost their lives when they fell into the polluted river and 60 other athletes from all over the world were injured, some severely. “All we needed was one person to say yes,” said Rob Schneider, JNF Australia CEO, at the unveiling ceremony, which took place on Friday, March 25.
The leaders of JNF Australia, together with Ms. Andrea Faulkner, the Australian Ambassador to Israel, met in Hod HaSharon, at the Yarkon River Rehabilitation and Wetlands Project, a couple of days before the opening of the KKL-JNF World Leadership Conference in Jerusalem. “This is a living tribute to the victims of the 15th Maccabiah,” said Grahame J. Leonard, JNF Australia Federal President, at the unveiling ceremony.
This project would have never been realized without the resourcefulness of an Australia-born Israeli business entrepreneur, Elie Lederman. “I was ashamed of this tragedy as an Israeli, and as an Australian, I wanted to know how rehabilitation of the river could be accomplished," Lederman said. He arranged a meeting between David Pargament, Director General of the Yarkon River Authority, and the person in JNF Australia who made it financially possible, Michael Naphtali - former Federal President of JNF Australia. Together with Leonard and Schneider, they convinced the Jewish community to contribute towards the rehabilitation of the river, which had a positive effect on relations between Israel and Australia, and also on relations between Israel and Australia's Jewish community.
Mr. Pargament explained about the green technologies behind the project, which has already been operating for two weeks since it was launched. The Hod HaSharon Park includes three ponds that are filled with aggregates of basalt and dolomite. The ponds receive water of tertiary quality from the Kfar Saba wastewater treatment plant. The water is then pumped into each pond until the pond is full. When the emptying phase starts, the water settles and the natural purification technology kicks in.
“The bacteria that grow on surface areas around the aggregates clean the water. The aggregates develop a biological film with bacteria that eat whatever is in the water. These bacteria 'know' how to break down the ammonia found in water from wastewater treatment plants, along with a number of other types of organisms,” Mr. Pargament said.
According to Mr. Pargament, the pipes discharge about 1,000 cubic meters of water per hour. It takes three hours to fill one pond and two hours to empty it. Once a pond is filled, the water is pumped into the second pond, and then to the third. Water that has been treated by the Wetlands Project is then channeled to a small tributary of the Yarkon, Nahal Kana, and then to the Yarkon River itself. Future plans call for channeling the purified river water to irrigate the park and for various agricultural needs. “This project improves water quality, which means that biological systems can enhance the natural rehabilitation of the river. The first thing we want to do is to allow people to row boats in the river, and in the future, maybe we'll even allow swimming,” Mr. Pargament said hopefully.
“After the bridge collapsed, there were a lot of people in Australia and in the Jewish community who were very upset. We had some very tough times,” Mr. Naphtali recalled how the project began. “We felt that the rehabilitation project was important for the river, but also to help rehabilitate the relations within the community. We wanted to make sure that there was a common activity to bring the people together. That was really the driving force,” he added.
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Mr. Naphtali added the project was really dependent on the vision of Mr. Pargament. “David loves the river and has done a marvelous job. We hope to share what we have learned about river rehabilitation with the world and to help improve Israel's image." Mr. Pargament worked together with Hilla Tzabari, former head of the Australian Desk in KKL-JNF Israel, who accompanied the project from the Israeli side.
Mr. Schneider explained how it was necessary to convince not only the Jewish community in Australia to support the project, but also the Israeli authorities. “We didn’t provide all the money for the project, but we were catalysts for other organizations, ministries and 22 regional councils to come on board. We needed one person to say yes, and then, many more people also said yes,” said Mr. Schneider.
Mr. Leonard mentioned some of the generous donors who supported the project. “There were individual donors for the Yarkon project, such as Les and Eva Erdi of Melbourne, who funded a large portion of the rehabilitation work. Seven kilometers of pathways along the Yarkon were named in their honor." He added that the cost of this project was about 10 million Australian dollars, about 30 million Israeli shekels.
JNF Australia raised money for a variety of different projects, not only the
rehabilitation of the river. For example, together with the National Council of Jewish Women in Australia (NCJWA), an outdoor classroom was built at Rosh Tzippor in the Yarkon Park. Their next plan is to build a bird observatory, similar to the one near the Knesset in Jerusalem.
“We hope that this site, which was unfortunately associated with sadness, will now become a focal point of new life. It’s wonderful to walk along the Yarkon and to see people boating, cycling, jogging and walking, and to know that the community of Australia and KKL-JNF is the force that's making all this happen,” Mr. Schneider said.
Ms. Andrea Faulkner, the Australian Ambassador to Israel, who attended the unveiling ceremony, summed up her feelings about the decision of the Jewish community in Australia to restore the Yarkon River: “I am very impressed by the scientific aspects of this project. I am extremely pleased by its positive environmental impact and very proud of the amazing Australian contribution. It’s a wonderful project,” she concluded
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