barkat tamir kkl 248-88.
(photo credit: )
Monday, 9th February was Tu Bishvat, the holiday associated with KKL-JNF - who held its central ceremony in Arazim Valley where a very exciting project was inaugurated. Together with the Jerusalem Municipality and other Green organizations, KKL-JNF is creating a new metropolitan park that will extend over 3,700 acres, surrounding the capital on the west, north and south. Arazim Park, the first link in this chain, is located west of Jerusalem in the valley beneath Mevaseret Zion.
Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat greeted participants, and Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, and the Mayors of Mevaseret and Givat Shmuel, were also present. "Tu Bishvat is a holiday when everyone thinks about nature. For many years, I have been coming to Arazim valley for recreation and hiking, and I never imagined that there would be so many people here one day. The metropolitan park that we are creating will join a string of parks that will encompass Jerusalem and answer the city's need for an easily accessible area for recreation in nature.
"The metropolitan park includes four regional parks and we hope to dedicate each link in this chain every few years, depending on our ability to raise the funds for development. The parks will include a sports center, access roads, hiking and cycling trails, playgrounds, forests and historical sites. They will attract people from greater Jerusalem and from the entire country during the week - and on weekends there will be something here for everyone. I would like to thank KKL-JNF, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority (INNPA) and the Jerusalem Development Authority for their assistance, without which this project could never have been undertaken!"
The ceremony, which was emceed by KKL-JNF's Rabbi Yerahmiel Barylka, was attended by over 1,300 people, including schoolchildren, new immigrants, soldiers, the visually impaired, volunteers from abroad, those with special needs and guests from all over the country. Before the ceremony began, children participated in special activities organized by KKL-JNF, such as bird ringing and learning about Arazim valley. The weather was perfect and the crowd was treated to the amazing music of the Gilo Community Center Youth Band, conducted by Michael Bendikov.
Moshe Leon of the Jerusalem Development Authority said that the park would be a catalyst for Jerusalem's future growth. "In 2008, a strategic agreement to create ecological parks around Jerusalem was signed by the Jerusalem Development Authority and KKL-JNF. This will be our flagship project over the next five years. The level of cooperation with KKL-JNF and other organizations working on the park has been extraordinary and it is especially heartwarming to know that KKL-JNF's friends worldwide will also be partners to this enterprise."
Guy Ayalon of the INNPA noted that besides the portal to nature that the park provides, it also boasts many historical sites. "There are archaeological remains here that date back to Talmudic times. Towards the end of the 19th century, residents of the Old City's Jewish quarter made an attempt to settle this valley, but unfortunately, their settlement was destroyed during the Arab riots of 1921. Together with KKL-JNF, we will encircle Jerusalem with greenery, including a 32 kilometer cycling trail that will be part of the Trans-Israel cycling trail."
KKL-JNF Deputy Chairman Yigal Yasinov was very moved by the large crowd and by the vision that was being realized: "One of the most beautiful things about this project has been the collaboration between the various organizations involved. Over the past few years, the Green agenda has gained prominence. I would ask today - as on every day of the year- that everyone ensures that our forests and parks remain clean, so that we and our children continue to enjoy a clean, Green, healthy environment."
Gershon Avni, head of the KKL-JNF Land Development Authority, said that over a hundred years ago, a man named Yehoshua Yelin bought land here. "After visiting this valley, Yelin wrote that 'this is a place with pure, pleasant, sweet air, where we drank fresh water from springs.' It is our dream that as a result of this project, visitors to the metropolitan park one hundred years from now will still be able to appreciate the fresh air and water. On his visit to Israel, Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl planted three cypress trees here, which is where the valley's name, arazim (Hebrew for cypress) originates. We will also be planting three groves of olive trees as part of UNESCO's Mediterranean "Olive Tree Route" wherein Israel and KKL-JNF are proud to be participating."
The Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, spoke very briefly: "I know you are all anxious to go to plant your trees, so I would just like to add that we work closely with KKL-JNF's Education Division all year long on imparting our shared values to Israeli youth. I would like to thank KKL-JNF for organizing these Tu Bishvat tree plantings throughout the country, and now, let's go plant some trees!"
Arazim Park is already blessed with many trees, some quite old, including almond trees that were in full bloom. After the Planter's Prayer was read by Minister Tamir and Daniel Barav, an eleventh grader from the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood, everyone climbed to the planting site which had been barren until today. We spoke with Hadas, Rachel, Eden, Mai, Yana, Roni and Lotem from the nearby Ramot Alon School. They surprised us by telling us that they just loved the ceremony! "And the music was great! We learn about KKL-JNF and nature at school and we even have a Blue Box that we've already emptied a number of times. This is the first time we have ever been here and it's really a huge place. It's amazing that there will be a park here that will go all the way to Mount Scopus."
Jo Stein and Gabi Metz of Australia are part of the IBC - Israel by Choice - program. "We are a group of high school graduates who came in December and will be staying in Israel until the summer. We always imagined Jerusalem as a large city. Who would have thought that there is such a beautiful nature site so close? This is the first time we planted a tree in Israel it's very exciting."
Bracha Hasid volunteers at Neve Or, an institution for the blind located in Jerusalem's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood. She was with Miriam Gabai, who told us that she had come with about forty blind and visually impaired people from Neve Or. Miriam said that this had been a very moving experience for her. "It's wonderful that a park like this is being created so close to Jerusalem, it helps make nature accessible to people like myself. I sense the different atmosphere here, the smells and the sounds. This is the first time I have been able to plant a tree on Tu Bishvat so I feel very emotional. Now that I know it's possible, I hope to be back here next year planting trees, maybe in a new part of the park. I wish you a Happy Tu Bishvat to KKL-JNF and to all of Israel!"
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