(photo credit: KKL)
On Wednesday, February 9, KKL-JNF's Aminadav tree planting center in the Judean Mountains hosted a group of seventeen sixth graders from the Maimonides Academy of Los Angeles, California, and 24 pupils from Tel Aviv's Meron elementary school. The two schools are part of a twinning program initiated by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, and the American children are spending ten days touring Israel, staying at the homes of their Israeli friends.
Arlene Burg, a teacher at the Maimonides Academy, explained why the children have a very special connection to KKL-JNF: "Israel is very central to our curriculum, and every year the schoolchildren participate in a project related to Israel. After the terrible Carmel forest fire, we had a special assembly, where we talked about the tragedy of the loss of life and the damage to one of Israel's most beautiful sites. The children decided to raise money for Carmel rehabilitation, and they actually managed to earn $2,000 for KKL-JNF by selling lemonade, cookies and other things. They are very proud to be here today and to present a check to KKL-JNF."
In honor of their efforts, the children were invited, together with the Israeli children from the Meron School, to plant trees in Aminadav Forest. They were greeted by KKL-JNF's Eli Ben Hamou and Ira Brier, who told the children about KKL-JNF's forestry program and explained about the different trees they would be planting.
Two children who were especially active in the fundraising campaign, Batsheva Berkowitz and Michael (Mikey) Szabo, read the Planters' Prayer in Hebrew and English before the children were given their tree saplings.
Batsheva spoke about how the idea came about: "When I heard about what happened in the Carmel Forest, I felt very bad about the people who were killed and all the trees that were burned down. We wanted to do something to help, so my mother's friend suggested raising money to help rehabilitate the forest. I wrote an article for our school newspaper describing how the fire started. I got the information from the internet and by interviewing my mother and a National Service volunteer from Israel who teaches us about Israel at my school.
"We raised money by doing things like selling hot chocolate, lemonade, and pins at basketball games and other occasions. Here in Israel I'm staying at the home of a girl that I've been emailing since fourth grade. This is actually the second time I'm planting a tree in Israel. I remember being here when I was four and planting a tree, but I have no idea where. This one I'll remember for sure."
Rabbi Zvi Schindel, one of the children's teachers, said that he bought a digital movie camera especially for the occasion: "Planting trees in the land of Israel is one of the highlights of our visit, and when we get back, we'll show the movie of today's ceremony to the entire school. We were a bit concerned about how the American and Israeli children would get along, but it turns out there was nothing to worry about. The chemistry between the two groups has been phenomenal."
Matanel Mizrahi, Gad Garcie and Yehoshua Mangisto are students at the Meron
elementary school: "We play together and are having a great time. At first we weren't sure what language to speak, Hebrew or English. Although they know some Hebrew, it turns out that we know better English than they do Hebrew, so we mainly speak English. Most of us already planted trees on Tu Bishvat, but for a lot of the kids from America, it's their first time."
Talya Sawdayi called her friend "to come look at my beautiful tree." She said that not only was it her first time planting a tree, but also her first visit to Israel: "It's cold here today, but it's worth it. I guess all the big trees here were planted by people years ago. When I grow up, I plan to come back and visit my tree."
Ira told the children that Israel was very different than the United States: "At home, you have lots of forests and trees are cut down for lumber, but in Israel, the hills and mountains were bare until KKL-JNF started planting. We also don’t have much water, so KKL-JNF builds water reservoirs all over the country that store recycled water for agriculture. We have a big job, and I want to thank you for helping us to accomplish it."
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