An Adventure-Packed Day in Northern Israel with
KKL-JNF Italy's Young Leadership Mission
On a blistering summer day, over 20 participants of KKL-JNF Italy's Young Leadership mission to Israel got off their bus at Hula Lake Park. The group, which was accompanied by the KKL-JNF shaliah to Italy, Rafi Ovadiah
, was on the fourth day of their ten-day visit to Israel, a trip that would take them to sites and places off the usual tourist trek and provide them with different and varied experiences of the country. As Judith Strasser-Perl
, KKL-JNF Young Leadership coordinator, explained: "The concept behind this trip is to bring young professionals to Israel on a relatively low budget and to have them see Israel from the perspective of the people who live in the country rather than that of a tourist. Along with visiting KKL-JNF sites and projects, they will also be hiking a lot in nature and learning about Israel's ecological systems. It is our hope that this trip will inspire them to take leadership roles in KKL-JNF Italy in particular and the Jewish community in general. We see this mission as a model for future groups of young people from other countries."Daniel Rosenblum
, the group's expert tour guide, ushered the group into the Hula Lake Visitors Center, where they were provided with bicycles and helmets, the perfect way to tour the site. They were joined by Nir, another guide, who led them through the park and explained about the lake's importance and history: "In the 1950s, the swamps of the Hula Valley, which were infested with mosquitoes and were a major cause of malaria, were drained, and the land was freed for agriculture. The problem was that the swamps had a very important ecological purpose – they prevented nutrients and natural waste from ending up in Lake Kinneret, which kept the lake's water clean. To help solve the problem, KKL-JNF re-flooded part of the valley, which has now become a world class birding site and one of Israel's most popular natural attractions."Migrating birds from all over the world stop here for food, water and rest. During the winter months, over 30,000 cranes fill the ponds and open spaces, a sight not to be missed. Now, during the summer, most of the birds we see here are smaller songbirds."
A couple kilometers later, the group boarded a raft that took them across the water channel to the Hula Valley bird-ringing station, where they were greeted by Nadav and Yonatan
, two ornithologists from the Israel Society for the Protection of Nature. Nadav explained about bird migration and bird-ringing technique. He introduced them to a young red warbler and told them about the bird's journey: "The red warbler's breeding grounds are in Europe, including Italy. Bird ringing allows us to track their migration patterns and learn about their life cycles. A few days ago, we found a warbler with a ring from Budapest, Hungary. We emailed the bird ringing station there and they wrote us back that the bird left Hungary just two days ago. That means that this tiny bird, which weighs only 12.7 grams, travels about 600 kilometers per day at the speed of 40-60 kilometers per hour. Now, however, the time has come to set this red warbler that we just ringed free."
Nadav asked for a volunteer, and Giorgia Lehmann
stepped up. Before she let the warbler go, Nadav asked her to make a wish, and Giorgia said that she had many wishes for herself and others.
After encircling the lake by bike, the group boarded the bus for a drive through the Golan Heights, stopping at the town of Katzrin, where they stopped for an audio-visual presentation on the area's history that emphasized the importance of this region, the source of one-third of Israel's freshwater, for Israel's security. The tense situation on Israel's northern border had become only too clear the day before. The group was touring the Upper Galilee and was startled by the sounds of the border skirmish between the Israeli and Lebanese armies as a result of an unprovoked attack on Israeli soldiers who were on a routine patrol.
The next stop was the famous Golan Heights Winery, where the Italians, no strangers to fine wines, tasted Israel's best. After lunch, yet another adventure awaited the group – a drive in jeeps through the rugged Golan landscape, ending at the Jordan River. Here, too, they were not going to take a rest. As the day came to its end, they boarded kayaks for a rafting trip up the river.Elisa Menasci
is KKL-JNF Italy's accountant in Rome and was responsible for organizing the trip together with Judith Strasser-Perl: "We sent out notices to all our mailing lists and publicized the trip in our local KKL-JNF newsletter. I was encouraged to promote the trip by Raffaele Sassun
, the president of KKL-JNF Italy. Many of the people are in Israel for the first time, and even those who were here before are seeing things they didn't previously, specifically sites developed by KKL-JNF. Personally, I have been working with KKL-JNF in Rome since 2003. I love my job because I love Israel."Sara
, who is from Rome, said that ever since she was young, she had a tremendous interest in Jewish culture and always wanted to visit Israel: "I heard about this trip from a friend, and felt that the opportunity to realize my dream had arrived. We have been in the country three days, and it is simply unbelievable. Even though I was never here before, somehow everything feels familiar to me. I am very grateful to KKL-JNF for organizing this trip."Cristina Di Barbora
, also from Rome: "Not so long ago, I was on a trip to South America, where I met Israelis for the first time. It was very strange, because a lot of the other tourists didn't like them, just because they were from Israel. The Israelis were very different – they were loud and lively, and I became very curious to see the country they came from. I signed up for this trip, and now, after seeing the various sites we have been to, I am beginning to understand the complexity of the geopolitical situation. I knew almost nothing about Israel before this trip, but I am learning new things by the hour. I am very much looking forward to our visit to Jerusalem, where we will be going for the weekend."Moshe Haiym Pollaco
, head of the KKL-JNF branch in Genoa, told us about the history of his connection to KKL-JNF: "My first memory of KKL-JNF as a child was the baskets filled with dried fruits that each Jewish family received on Tu Beshevat. KKL-JNF also provided educational material for children on Israel, Zionism and Jewish tradition.
"Genoa is a port city. At one time, there were 800 Jews living there,
but now there are only about 200. The Jews who left went to Israel, and
those who remain are not religiously observant. They are not interested
in a religious approach to their Jewish identity, and this is where
KKL-JNF comes in. KKL-JNF provides them with a venue to explore and
express their Judaism without a sense of religious coercion. We meet as
a community for Jewish holidays and had a big dinner on Tu Beshvat.
Whenever a member of the community passes away, we buy trees for them
in Israel. This trip is extremely important, because it helps cement
the young people's connection to Israel and the Jewish people."
This was the last day the group spent in the north. The remainder of
their itinerary called for touring the south and spending the weekend
in Jerusalem, including planting trees at KKL-JNF's Tree Planting
Center at Kennedy Memorial in the Judean Mountains. The visit concludes
with a dedication ceremony of the new KKL-JNF Italian Donors
Appreciation site near Sderot in the northern Negev.
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