Dr J?rgen R?ttgers.
(photo credit: )
Thirty-three degrees in the shade, adjacent to the community of Lehavim in the northern Negev, the recognition site in the German States Forest came to life once more, as, for the second time in just a few months, a group of honored guests and their hosts gathered there. The Minister-President of the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, Dr JÃ¼rgen RÃ¼ttgers, who had arrived in Israel at the head of a delegation of forty distinguished visitors, was accompanied by KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler and Head of Lehavim Regional Council Eli Levy.
It is not every ceremony that provides those present with the opportunity to hear characteristic klezmer music - certainly not as played by the musicians of the Leverkusen Klezmer Band, from the German town of the same name: all its members are young, and none of them is Jewish. They were performing in honor of the late Dr. Paul Spiegel, who for many years was President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Members of the government of North Rhine-Westphalia and other prominent figures in Germany had been looking for a way to honor the memory of Dr Spiegel, who died two years ago. In the end they decided to donate a wood in the German States Forest, on the edge of the desert, and dedicate it to his memory. "These trees reflect a great deal of my husband's personality," said Dr Spiegel's widow GisÃ¨le, who was moved to tears. "Although he always felt a profound connection to his birthplace and the town of DÃ¼sseldorf, he also had strong links with his spiritual homeland, Israel. Even as we mourn him, my daughters and I regard these trees as a great blessing and we should like to thank all those involved in initiating this method of perpetuating his memory."
Minister-President for North Rhine-Westphalia Dr RÃ¼ttgers spoke of Dr Paul Spiegel's work: "Paul Spiegel was a very important figure for me, mainly because of his uncompromising struggle against those who sought to minimize the Holocaust suffered by the Jews of Europe. He did not want to forget, and he did not want it to be forgotten. He took a tough line on this, and he was right to do so. Paul Spiegel always did a little more than could have been expected of him; he belonged to that rare type of person, who achieves beyond expectations. He always knew how to give, and how to be there for others. He was totally committed to being a mediator, in the purest sense of the word. Peace and reconciliation lay at the heart of everything he did, and we are left only with the question of whether or not we are capable of carrying out his wishes in both Germany and Israel."
Eli Levy, head of Lehavim Regional Council, recalled Dr Spiegel's extensive educational activities and the annual exchange-program meetings between groups of Israeli and German youngsters hosted by Lehavim. He added, "I should like to thank KKL-JNF, and also the citizens, states and governments of Germany for their friendship and support. Yesterday we witnessed the German Foreign Minister's arrival in the region on a humanitarian mission to help bring kidnapped soldiers home. This is only one example of the friendship between the two countries. We believe that the minister's work in Israel on such a mission will be rewarded in the next world, while, we in this world, certainly know how to appreciate what he has done."
The German ambassador to Israel had intended to accompany Dr RÃ¼ttgers on his current visit to Israel, but had to change his plans owing to commitments of the German Foreign Minister. KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler showered praises on Paul Spiegel's work: "Spiegel survived the Holocaust, and returned to build Jewish life in Germany. He defined the main objective of his life as follows: 'I suffered through the Holocaust and survived and I'm going to do everything I can to make both Jews and non-Jews all over the world happy.' That is what Spiegel did all his life, through art, poetry, music and drama, which he took to the ends of the earth. He knew how to help Jews and Christians to connect with each other and overcome their prejudices."
Stenzler spoke briefly of the German States Forest's important role in holding back desertification, combating global warming and providing amenities for residents of the arid northern Negev region where "annual precipitation levels are at best only a third of those in the Rhine Valley in Germany."
In the course of the dignified ceremony the Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia and Mrs Spiegel unveiled a modest commemoratory plaque in the main memorial area, and the KKL-JNF World Chairman presented the visiting Minister-President with a special tree-planting certificate in appreciation of North Rhine-Westphalia's contribution to planting the new forest. The actual planting will not take place until the end of the fallow year, because of which Dr. RÃ¼ttgers also refrained from planting the first symbolic tree of the new woodland.
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