(photo credit: Courtesy)
"It is very exciting for us to be dedicating the new KKL-JNF Learning Center in Bet Shemesh today, especially because we just found out that our plans for an ecological farm, which is also a joint project with KKL-JNF, were also approved." Mr. Daniel Waknin, the mayor of Bet Shemesh, was speaking at the dedication of the Learning Center at the Eshkol-Payis Science and Arts Center in Bet Shemesh. "A people's roots are its most valuable asset, and our roots are our history as a people and a state. How does an acacia tree grow in the desert? It is thanks to its incredibly deep roots, which delve deep into the ground. Theories are not enough; we must make history come alive for our children.
"When it was founded in 1950, there were only a few thousand people living in Bet Shemesh. Today, our population has reached 95,000. 24,000 of whom are schoolchildren. This is both a blessing and a challenge. It is projects like this that give us the tools to educate our children in a way that helps them to understand what it means for the Jewish people to live in its ancient homeland. On behalf of Bet Shemesh, I would like to thank KKL-JNF Education Division, especially Yigal Yasinov and Reuven Na'amat, who did an excellent and extremely professional job. Now, when I meet KKL-JNF people, instead of just thinking about trees, I see educators of the highest caliber."
The Bet Shemesh Learning Center, built with help of KKL-JNF UK, is one of six already existing centers throughout the country. Many more are on the way, thanks to friends of JNF Canada. The Center consists of a number of exhibits that impart ecology, Zionist history and values to children in an experiential and engaging manner.
KKL-JNF Deputy Chairman Yigal Yasinov thanked the Bet Shemesh municipality for its cooperation in this project: "Zionism, ecology, and education - these are words, and words are like shells or balloons. The purpose of the KKL-JNF learning centers is to give meaning to these words, so that our young people will identify with these concepts, not so that they will pass a test, but because they understand that they are critical for life in Israel.
"I would like to thank the students sitting here and also to make a request of them. I would like to thank them for being students and studying. They will decide how to make use of the tools they have acquired, so that they will be able to contribute to the state, to the land, and to the environment. My request to them is that when they go out into the world with these tools, when they take over the jobs that we are doing now, that they will do a better job than we have, so that our country will be a better place to live in."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Yasinov presented the mayor, municipality staff and the director of the Eshkol-Payis Center with KKL-JNF gifts for the New Year.
The Learning Center makes Zionist history and ecological issues real to children in a number of ways, for example, by showing how ecological problems can be transformed into ways of helping the environment. One very popular exhibit is a model of a KKL-JNF forest planted on the site of a former quarry, which enables children to learn about forest planning and how to avoid fires and erosion.
After learning about various issues such as water, forests, carbon fuels and air, the children are given cards that encourage them to think about what they can do to help in their daily lives, for instance, not letting the water run while brushing their teeth or recycling plastic bags and bottles. In another corner, large block with different pictures on each of their six sides tell the story of how Israel was settled, what KKL-JNF is doing and where, the food chain, flora and fauna and the water cycle in nature. We also saw a ropes and ladders game, in which one progressed to the goal by answering various questions correctly.
One of the most interesting exhibits told the story of six decades of Israeli history bymeans of KKL-JNF stamps. These stamps have been issued by KKL-JNF since its inception, and were one of the ways KKL-JNF raised money. "In fact," Tali, a KKL-JNF guide, told us, "to this day, when an Israeli high school student receives the matriculation certificate, it is not valid without the KKL-JNF stamp affixed to it."
Two beautiful stained glass windows depicted the connection between KKL-JNF, Israel and the environment, and from the ceiling, a life-size model of Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl looked down at the exhibit. As we left, we couldn't help thinking that over the next year, Herzl would have a lot of naches watching the thousands of students visiting the Learning Center to see his vision become reality.
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