Efi Stenzler 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler has announced that as soon as Israel and Lebanon are on their way to establishing peaceful relations, he will be happy to extend KKL-JNF's international activities northwards and help the Lebanese government to rehabilitate its country's environment.
In an interview to mark the launch of the Green Israel section on The Jerusalem Post online edition JPost.com, he spoke of the most recent spate of brush fires, mentioning specifically a blaze that broke out in southern Lebanon a week ago, crossed the border fence and moved towards Kibbutz Manara. "As soon as we're on the way to establishing peaceful relations, I shall be happy to send KKL-JNF experts to help the Lebanese government develop the open areas in the south of their country and make them as green as our Galilee."
KKL-JNF - an international green organization
This statement of intent is in tune with the recent change of emphasis in KKL-JNF activities: as KKL-JNF is now recognized as one of the world's leading "green" organizations, more and more governments are choosing to establish direct research and scientific relationships.
The government of the Canadian State of Manitoba has recently decided to conduct research on water-resource conservation in conjunction with KKL-JNF experts and will provide the lion's share of the funding. A similar joint project has been underway for the past couple of years with the Canadian State of Alberta. KKL-JNF is also providing the Indonesian government with scientific help and expertise with regard to forest care, biological pest control in woodlands and combating the inroads of desertification.
The international connections that KKL-JNF is developing are only one reason why Stenzler attaches such importance to the joint project with JPost.com: "Dealing with vital issues that affect the future of life on earth is another way for residents of Israel to cooperate on a daily basis with the rest of the world. It is important for us to use this convenient channel of communication to inform people of KKL-JNF's enormous contribution to the Israeli state and its land since the organization was founded 106 years ago."
According to Stenzler, "Although we are in essence a Jewish Zionist organization, all Israeli citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, enjoy the fruits of our labors up and down the country, and KKL-JNF sites are open for everyone to enjoy, free of charge. I'm talking about forests, picnic areas, marked cycling and horse-riding trails, sports and games facilities, rehabilitated rivers, etc."
Water for Israel
Stenzler lays particular emphasis on KKL-JNF's sewage reclamation activities - and, above all, on the 192 reservoirs that store effluent water, sufficiently purified to allow it to be recycled for agricultural use. He places equal weight on the organization's enormous investment in infrastructure - for agriculture on the one hand, and for the construction of new communities on the other.
Since its inception KKL-JNF has prepared infrastructures for 1,000 communities, most of them agricultural. Over the course of more than 100 years it has planted 224 million trees, and has turned a desolate region into an island of greenery on the fringe of the deserts of Arabia.
"I always remember how Mark Twain described his first impression of the Holy Land," said Stenzler. "He wrote in the 19th century, 'I have never seen such an ugly country.' From the moment we came back, the land began to turn green. We have to bear in mind that, because of world climate change and accelerated desertification, we in Israel are waging a daily battle to stop the desert encroaching and push forward its frontiers. This is why we have assumed a leading role in agricultural research and development and agricultural water use - and, especially, in adapting crops for cultivation in desert areas or on the desert fringes."
According to Stenzler, "In this way we are helping not only to strengthen settlement in areas where the climate is difficult, but also to improve water quality and reduce environmental pollution. And there is an added bonus attached to stopping sewage from flowing into the rivers: it has given us the opportunity to work together with Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide on expensive and vital projects to rehabilitate Israeli watercourses that have been polluted for decades."
During and after the evacuation of the Gaza settlements, KKL-JNF responded to a request from Ariel Sharon, then prime minister, for the swift preparation of infrastructures for the establishment of alternative communities and sources of income for farmers who had been forced to leave their homes and abandon their life's work.
"In order to minimize the farmers' financial distress, we set out as fast as we could to prepare sites for new greenhouses throughout the western Negev, and at the same time to establish Nitzan, the temporary community where evacuees would be accommodated. As preparation of the sites progressed and the first greenhouses were erected, we started work on infrastructures for the new communities to which the Gaza evacuees would eventually move," Stenzler said.
Blue box educates for nature
Efi Stenzler was elected World Chairman of KKL-JNF only eight months ago. As Mayor of Givatayim for fifteen successive years he was a leading figure in local government, and during his term of office his town became a regular winner of the annual award for environmental education.
"When I arrived at KKL-JNF I found ample support for everything I believed in. I believe in the need to educate the younger generation to love the country, its history and the treasures of its environment. The bond between a nation and its land is formed through direct contact, by means of school and family excursions. These, I believe, have to be encouraged. Such trips were the norm in our education system from the time the State was founded until about 20 years ago. That is why the first thing I announced after my appointment as KKL-JNF World Chairman was my intention to reintroduce the Blue Box into school classrooms.
"I was fortunate enough to receive the blessing of the Education Minister, Professor Yuli Tamir, and the support of the Israel Teachers' Union, the National Parents' Committee and many local council heads. The Blue Box is coming back into classrooms at the start of the new school year, not just as a means of collecting money, but also as a symbol. All the money that goes into each box will be used within the confines of the local authority, and the pupils themselves will decide to which KKL-JNF activity the funds should be donated. This will help the schoolchildren to identify with the environment and develop a sense of responsibility towards it."
New KKL-JNF holiday centers
Towards the end of the interview, Stenzler revealed that the organization has plans to develop a network of holiday centers in Israel, to be established under KKL-JNF ownership at scenic and woodland sites throughout the country.
These centers will provide both facilities for family recreation and a unique opportunity to take part in ecological and agricultural tourism activities.
Stenzler admitted that this project will not be offered to the public free of charge. He added however, that because of KKL-JNF's involvement in specialized agricultural and environmental R&D at seven KKL-JNF stations in different parts of the country, holidaymakers will be able to enjoy a fascinating and highly unusual experience that will give them a glimpse into the future of projects normally accessible only to scientists and researchers.
Accessibility for the disabled
While we are on the subject of accessibility, Stenzler was eager to stress another vital aspect of the organization's work: "In the last few years we have begun to carry out projects designed to make recreational, hiking and picnic sites at our most popular woodland locations accessible to people with physical disabilities. We are constructing paths suitable for wheelchair use and handrails for those who have trouble walking. In addition, we are moderating the steepness of slopes at our sites and providing them with easy access for disabled vehicles."
"At KKL-JNF this has become a major focus of activity, with the support of Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, who have directed their energies towards funding these projects. We see the results in the reactions we receive from organizations for the disabled, as well as the stream of personal messages sent to us by people with physical limitations. This is another way in which we are working towards making the fruits of KKL-JNF's activities available to all members of the community," concluded Stenzler.