KKL Park dedication 248.88.
(photo credit: )
The festive ceremony held by KKL-JNF, the "Masa" project and the Council of World Youth Movements dedicating the Ruhama Forest as the Forest of the World Zionist Youth Movements, was not the kind you see every day. Thousands of participants from Israel and worldwide, converged on a sunny winter day to mark the dedication of the forest with a gala ceremony, tours, and activities. As Reuven Naamat from the KKL-JNF Education Department exclaimed happily, "It was the perfect day for a perfect event."
Participants included KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF Vice-Chairman Yigal Yassinov, Ayelet Shira-Tamir, Director of the "Masa" Project; Ze'ev Schwarz, President of the Council for International Youth Movements; the Russian Ambassador in Israel Pyotr Stegny; the treasurer of the Zionist Union Hagai Marom; Mayor of Sderot, David Boskila and Alon Shuster, head of the Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council.
Thousands of members of youth movements Betar, Bnei Akiva, Maccabi, Habonim-Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Hatzofim HaIvrim, participated in the event together with residents of Gaza periphery communities and soldiers from the border patrol, many of whom are new immigrants.
The "Masa" Project is the umbrella organization of more than 160 five to ten-month-long programs in Israel for young Jewish people aged 18-30 from around the world. There are approximately 18 international Jewish youth movements. What could be more appropriate than cooperation between the values and extensive activities of these movements and the KKL-JNF - the largest Jewish Green organization in the world? This is precisely the goal of this project that reached a climax with an impressive ceremony, tree-plantings and a happening in the forest in which more than 1,000 members of Zionist youth movements worldwide participated.
The events began with a reception in Kibbutz Ruhama. In his opening words, Yigal Yassinov said, "There is nothing more symbolic than this growth and renewal during the recent period when there has been so much trouble in the area. I have no doubt that the forest will be loved and visited a lot more as a result of this investment."
Ze'ev Schwarz, President of the Council for International Youth Movements, moved the participants when he referred to the abducted soldier, Gilad Schalit, who has been held captive for close to 1000 days. "We came here today to show solidarity with the residents of the south and to call for the release of Gilad Schalit. Members of the youth movements are the future leaders of the Jewish people and constitute a front in the struggle against assimilation and strengthening Jewish identity" He continued with the proverb: "If you are concerned about the coming year, plant wheat. If you are concerned about the coming years, plant a tree. If you are concerned about future generations, educate people. You, on Masa, are seeing to the coming year. KKL-JNF workers, who are doing wonderful work, will see to the coming years, and we, the youth movements, will see to the future generations."
Ayala Tamir, director of the Masa project, noted that over 8,000 youngsters are participating in the project this year, many of whom are members of youth movements. "These young people are the faces of Israel throughout the world and there is no doubt that KKL-JNF made an excellent choice when it decided to name one of the most beautiful sites in the country for them." Ruhama was the first Jewish settlement in the Negev, established in 1912 as a farm. The farm was destroyed and abandoned during the First World War. During the 1920s two attempts were made to re-establish the farm, but were unsuccessful. The land was finally purchased by KKL-JNF at the end of the 1930s and the place was proposed as the site for Kibbutz Amal in 1943. The kibbutz itself was established in 1944 by a group of members of Hashomer Hatzair from Romania and Poland.
"This was a wonderful choice on the part of the KKL-JNF" stated Alon Shuster, Head of the Regional Council. "Here, where we are close to the border and are living with a difficult situation, the choice of the forest symbolizes the vision of physical and spiritual settlement."
Hagai Marom, treasurer of the Jewish Agency, added, "Everyone is talking about love of the country, but there is nothing like planting trees in order to demonstrate that love. I have no doubt that the next stage will be a joint project with KKL-JNF to establish a similar site for the Israeli youth movements."
Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman, thanked all the participants in the project. "This event today benefits not only the Jewish youth movements, but also the entire Jewish people. On behalf of everyone, I want to thank members of Kibbutz Ruhama and the Regional Council for their strength to persevere. With the help of the forest we will connect young people to the values of KKL-JNF and keep the torch of developing the country and its settlement burning." Stenzler added that now, when KKL-JNF is paving 200 kilometers of cycling routes in the area, the sport of cycling is developing beautifully throughout the country.
The ceremony ended with awarding of KKL-JNF Golden Book certificates and the participants continued on to the unveiling of the sign at the entrance to the park that read: Ruhama Forest - the Forest of the Zionist Youth Movements after which participants went into the forest for a short hike and tree-planting. Over 1000 youth movement members were waiting for them, having spent the morning at a happening with activities including planting trees and decorating the remains of Kassam rockets for exhibition in the Sderot Police station.
Maoz Habib, the director of International Reform Zionist Youth, noted, "Every movement has its own forest in Israel thanks to KKL-JNF and it is a significant place - it is the movement's own corner in the Land of Israel. A central forest for everyone is a declaration that each one is unique, but that when we unite we are strong. We have to join hands and be united."
We also met Maddy and Laura from London. "It's great that they brought us all here. That way we get to meet Jewish youth from other countries! It's so much fun to contribute something small to the State of Israel that has given us so much." David from Uruguay added, "This year has been simply wonderful."
Among the many participants we met were members of various youth movements as well as Israeli youth who were participating in the same volunteer programs as their peers from abroad within the framework of their year of community service before they begin their military service.
"It's really wonderful to see this amazing connection, all the different movement shirts together in one place. This year with youth from abroad, you have made us connect more to the country and with places that we had already taken for granted." said Ayelet, a member of Hatzofim Haivrim doing a year's service with Young Judea.
The ceremony for the young people began and Hagai Marom thanked the participants: "Today you planted trees but in fact, you are the ones who help us plant hope, responsibility and the leadership to plant the future of the country."
Efi Stenzler also thanked the members of the youth movements for their activities: "Every sapling that you planted here today on the border of the State of Israel helps us in KKL-JNF in our battle against the desert. Like the trees that you have just planted, you also cope with many difficulties in the Diaspora and I have no doubt that you will also know how to grow and flourish. We will progress and move forward with your help."
Ayelet Tamir, director of "Masa" concluded the ceremony with words of hope. "One day, in another 20 years, you will come back here with your children, and tell them about this wonderful country, the marvelous experiences that you had, and the saplings that you planted today that will be fully grown trees."
The ceremony continued with a prayer for the release of Gilad Schalit, a thunderous singing of "Hatikva" in Hebrew and planting new trees in the forest. "The very fact that there are 18 different youth movements here expressing solidarity shows that the fulfillment must be continued," noted the director of the international youth movements Sergio Edelstein.
Members of the youth movements were taken on a tour of the forest and kibbutz Ruhama. We met Amy from Australia on one of the tours who said excitedly, "It's wonderful to meet here people from other youth movements. Each year we make fundraising events to KKL-JNF in Melbourne, and there is a huge response in the community. It's good to see that our contributions are used to develop the country."
"All of us come from different places," said Adam, a member of Habonim-Dror from New Zealand. "But actually all of us come from the same place, and all of us share the same thing - Jewish identity and love of Israel."
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