(photo credit: kkl)
"We've been in Israel since Tuesday, and we really love it here. It's awesome, and it's surreal that everything is Jewish." On Friday, December 11, Dmitri Salita, the famous light-welterweight boxer from the United States and his wife Alona were at KKL-JNF's Aminadav Forest near Jerusalem, where they had come to plant trees in honor of their visit. They were greeted by KKL-JNF's Avinoam Binder, former chief KKL-JNF USA emissary, who surprised them when he explained that most of Israel's trees were planted by KKL-JNF, since the land had been stripped of almost all its natural forests.
Dmitri was very moved to be here: "This is the first time I have been to Israel, and I kissed the ground when I got off the airplane. I fight all over the United States, and I can never enjoy the complimentary breakfast, because it's not kosher, and here we can eat to our heart's content. We've been to the Western Wall, the Old City and the City of David. Hearing the stories of the past and seeing these places makes it possible to internalize everything. And to see Jerusalem from these
Dmitri spoke a bit about his last fight, where he challenged the present champion, Amir Khan, in Newcastle, England, for the WBA title in his weight group. Although Dmitri entered the ring with an undefeated record for his last 31 fights, Khan defeated him in the first round: "The experience was tough and very draining. I need some time, and I can't think of any better place than Israel to relax and reflect. People come up to me all the time, I had no idea I was so popular here. One of my dreams is to bring a big boxing event to Israel."
Dmitri and Alona came to plant trees immediately after visiting Yad Vashem: "Being in Yad Vashem was one of the most powerful moments of my life. There are no words to describe it. I really understand now the miracle of Israel coming into being just a few years after the Holocaust. We are a people of redemption, and planting trees here, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, is an indication of this. Every Jew is an Israeli, and it's the responsibility of every Jew to visit Israel. It's an honor to be here, and I'm very grateful to the organizations sponsoring our stay like Nefesh B'Nefesh and JNF America. I believe that every Jew represents the Jewish people and Israel, which is why I always enter the ring draped in an Israeli flag."
Before the tree planting ceremony, Avinoam Binder read the Planters Prayer in Hebrew, while Dmitri read it in English. Dmitri's wife, Alona, laughed and told us they were married just three months ago: "I guess you could say this is our honeymoon, since until now, Dmitri was busy training for the fight. Besides Jerusalem, we've been to Tel Aviv and Rachel's grave. One thing I've noticed about Israel is that everything tastes better here!"
Dmitri and Alona were accompanied by Dmitri's Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Zalman Lieberov, who said that as Dmitri's rabbi, he never went with him to his fights: "But when I heard that he was going to plant a tree in Israel, I said that this was an opportunity I wouldn't miss!"
Before they left, Avinoam presented Dmitri and Alona with certificates
in honor of having planted trees in a KKL-JNF forest. Alona was
surprised to see that the certificate noted the date the trees were
planted on: "This is really very nice. It means that each tree in
Israel has a birthday, so we'll make sure to come back and be with our
trees for one of their birthdays. I'm already looking forward to it."
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