(photo credit: Courtesy)
Extracted from a letter by Rob Schneider, Chief Executive JNF Australia
A group of 19 young professionals from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane aged 25-40, recently returned from Israel. They were the first Next Generation Group, to experience a JNF "Mission". Tammy Cohen (Vic) and Naomi Gold (NSW) were the coordinators who accompanied this group.
The purpose of this "mission" was to educate the young leadership body, regarding the work that JNF/KKL does. This was an opportunity for them to see Israel and its relationship with JNF, snapshot the beauty of Israel, feel the land, see the colours of the country and to enjoy the experience of living in Israel.
To successfully educate this leadership group was to let them experience first hand the work of JNF by focusing on the past and present projects undertaken in Israel, and for them to realise the extent of our relationship with the Land.
One of the most memorable activities was when each participant of the "mission" carried buckets of water and mulch up the steep hills of the "Naphtali Forest" in order to help sustain the newly planted saplings. This was one of the forests where 750 thousand trees were destroyed in recent times. Neither the searing heat, nor the prickles on the bushes deterred the group from completing the task at hand. One of the girls started to sing Hineh Mah Tov, and with additional voices rising, the earth on our hands and the sweat and tears combined, we all felt a connection with the land of Israel.
Our children and grandchildren will see the fruits of this labour. It was our turn to give.
JNF/KKL is not just about trees, let us get the message right - this was our limited opportunity to show this group what the JNF/KKL is all about. The security roads, the recycle plant "Dudaim", "Shlomi water" project, "Bahan Reservoir" project, the "Alexander River", The "Yarkon River" project, the parks, the forests, the picnic areas, the bike trails, "Australia Park", the "Hula Valley", the swamps that have become migration areas for millions of birds, the research and development projects, the infrastructure, the fire watchtowers, the KKL fire fighters, the water and irrigation facilities - we saw it all.
It was then understood that we are the organisation that works from the ground up. Our vision and our involvement in the daily lives of the Israeli people and their environment could be seen at every turn on every road.
We shared the pain of the kidnapped soldiers, walked the ground that they walked on when we visited an area close to the Lebanese border. The silence of the group was eerie. A few meters away, we picked the fruit from the nectarine trees along the same border, while being watched by UN personnel in their vehicles.
We hiked up Masada for sunrise, prayed at the Kotel in Jerusalem, went to Ammunition Hill and Rosh Hanikra, crawled the Zak caves, went to Zichron Yaakov, Kfar Giladi, Israel's Intelligence and Commemoration Centre, Katzrin, Kutchin Shule at Nevatim. We ventured to Tiberias, shared a Kinneret Cruise, and stayed at Kibbutz Lavi. We covered serious mileage.
We swam in waterfalls of Nahal David, and hiked tracks that probably many Israelis haven't ventured to. Some of the activities in the program were off the beaten track, but we were always JNF focused. Kayaking and white water rafting, abseiling at the Ramon Crater - we did it all. Even a night hike in the desert, hearing stories of rescue operations from our tour guide, we did that as well. We slept in a Bedouin tent and went camel riding too. A lifetime of activities and emotions were packed into 11 incredible but very short days.
None of us knew of places such as May Kedem, Park Idmit, Nahal Hakibutzim... Now we know, have seen, and now we understand.
It is only after this mission that we can truly say that we have seen Israel and the work that JNF do.
Each of our participants has had to come to terms with the realisation of the land they walked on is theirs, whatever they build will be for them and for future generations. Our "new ambassadors" have returned with the passion to assist Israel and the JNF cause by whatever means possible. We can now appreciate and understand the value of the work that is undertaken outside Israel to raise funds and to promote the extraordinary work of JNF to make Israel a more liveable environment.
Just as we said shechechiyanu on sighting Jerusalem, so we can say shechechiyanu on our return to Australia from Israel with the hope and determination of building a bigger, brighter and better future for JNF and for Israel.