(photo credit: )
"This is our thirty-eighth visit to Israel since 1969, but who's counting?" laughed Dr. Eli Adler of Edmonton, Alberta. "We have sponsored a project in Yatir Forest, so every time we come it's exciting to be here. We are also 'Guardians of the Arava', where the group visited yesterday." Phyllis, his wife, told us the story of how they first became acquainted with KKL-JNF: "When we originally moved to Edmonton, we didn't really know anyone. We were invited to the annual JNF Canada Negev Dinner and by 1977 I was the dinner honoree! We are very connected to Israel and spent a year here in Ramat Hasharon. I knew we were really feeling at home when someone asked Eli directions and he answered 'yashar yashar' (straight ahead) in perfect, although one-word, Hebrew."
Phyllis and Eli were part of JNF Canada's mission to Italy and Israel. The group arrived in Israel on 11th October and went straight to Ayalon Canada Park for lunch hosted by KKL-JNF. The next few days were jammed packed with activities, including a visit to the north, where the group learned about KKL-JNF's rehabilitation of forests burnt during the Second Lebanese War; Jerusalem and its famous historical and religious sites; the Dead Sea and the Negev, where the group learned about KKL-JNF's pioneering efforts in combating desertification and global warming.
We joined the group for a day in Yatir Forest, Israel's largest forest planted-by-man, located in the semi-arid region of the Negev desert east of Beersheba. Joe Rabinovitch, Executive Director of JNF Canada, told us that the group comprised a very diverse bunch of people: "This group has a really large range - from teenagers to people in their mid-eighties. Over half the people on this mission are visiting Israel for the first time, and it's exciting and moving to see their reactions to the country."
Sharon Markowitz, President of JNF Canada also shared the story of how she first became involved with KKL-JNF: "My mother's birthday is on Tu Bishvat: she always planted trees in Israel in honor of the occasion and that is how I first heard of KKL-JNF. My job in Canada is to let people know just how central KKL-JNF is to everyday life in Israel. There are many places in Israel where without KKL-JNF there would be no water in the faucet. Over 220,000,000 trees planted means 25 trees an hour, 24 hours a day, for over one hundred years. Whenever someone walks through a forest, it is because KKL-JNF planted it.
"One of the things I really like about KKL-JNF is its ability to change and adapt itself to an ever-changing reality. In fact, KKL-JNF was involved in caring for the environment long before it became fashionable. Today, being concerned about the environment is a cause that speaks to young people. And KKL-JNF is promoting Israel's good name thanks to its groundbreaking successes in afforestation techniques and combating desertification. Last April, Chief Ovide Mercredi of Manitoba, who is the head of the Cree Nation, came to Israel to learn about KKL-JNF projects. He told me that he was amazed at Israel's ability to accomplish so much while living under a constant threat of war. As a result of his visit, greenhouses using technologies pioneered by KKL-JNF were built in Manitoba."
KKL-JNF's Avinoam Alon explained to the visitors that Yatir Forest was the focus of worldwide research on the benefits of afforestation in semi-arid areas, as a result of the trees' contribution to carbon sequestration. Hiking on one of the many trails that traverse Yatir Forest, the group learned about ancient olive oil and wine producing methods, concluded at the ruins of an ancient synagogue, testimony to Jewish presence in this region since before the time of the Second Temple.
Brian Lazarus of Windsor, Ontario joined the delegation with his wife and five children: "My wife and I just celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and we wanted to do something really special in honor of the occasion. Since we always make an annual contribution to KKL-JNF, we received an invitation to join this trip. My wife said 'Let's do it', and here we are! You know, when you make a contribution, it's hard to imagine exactly what that means in terms of day-to-day reality, but this trip has given us an opportunity to get a firsthand look at some of the many projects that Canadians have supported and to walk next to trees that we planted. It's really been enlightening."
KKL-JNF's Sharon Lehrer, who organized the visit and ensured everything ran smoothly, told us that the JNF Canada mission trip to Israel was very much in demand: "We had another 22 people on the waiting list for this tour that we just couldn't accommodate."
Keith Ross first visited Israel in 1968, and since then, always wanted to return: "This was my chance, and I was able to bring my wife Marie and my children Mathew and Debra along with me. It is my wife's first visit to Israel, and she is already making plans to come back" And pointing to the desert hill now covered by pine trees planted by KKL-JNF, Keith says: "Look at this - it looks just like Canada!"
Sunday, the group's last day in Israel, was highlighted by a talk by KKL-JNF Directorate Member Professor Alon Tal on the environment and global warming. After cocktails at the residence of the Canadian ambassador to Israel and a farewell dinner in Caesarea at sunset, the group headed back to Canada. This may have been the first visit to Israel for some of the mission participants, but judging by the enthusiasm expressed by old and young, it certainly won't be their last.
For more information, please visit our website at www.kkl.org.il/eng or e-mail email@example.com