(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
On Friday, February 24th, 2012, Eli Yonas, CEO of Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank, presented KKL-JNF and its World Chairman Efi Stenzler with a challenge. At the inauguration ceremony of a new forest recreation area on the slopes of Mount Carmel – donated by Mizrahi-Tefahot management and staff – Eli Yonas surprised his listeners by saying: “I’ve got an idea for KKL-JNF, which we undertake to help to implement. In the coming years the most beautiful route of all, the Ottoman railway route to Jerusalem through central Israel, will become available when the new fast Jerusalem railway comes into operation and the old one falls into disuse. This route, with its moderate slopes, is ideal for cyclists. Take it upon yourselves: from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh, then, later, on towards Tel Aviv.”
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler responded to the spontaneous proposal with a decisive “Agreed!” This is an ambitious project for which both KKL-JNF and Mizrahi-Tefahot will have to find additional sources of funding, and its implementation is expected to continue over a period of several years.
This unexpected exchange took place in Hof HaCarmel Forest, where KKL-JNF and the management of Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank were inaugurating a new forest recreation area. Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank and its staff thereby added another project for the benefit of the general public to the many voluntary undertakings it pursues all year round. Staff members at one hundred and twenty branches of the bank already participate in voluntary work as part of an ongoing project that focuses mainly on young people with special needs. After the huge fire on Mount Carmel, the bank’s management and staff contributed to the cost of rebuilding the sports center at the Yemin Orde Youth Village, whose students were invited to take part in the ceremonial tree-planting at the inauguration of the recreation area.
The moving ceremony was also attended by a group of cyclists who are members of staff at the Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank and regular users of the 1,000 kilometers of cycle paths developed by KKL-JNF the length and breadth of Israel, with the help of its Friends worldwide. Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank CEO Eli Yonas told those present: “We’re all very happy to be here, and we are pleased and honored to take part in the restoration of the Carmel Forests. We’re glad to have the opportunity to create a place of our own here, and thereby encourage other organizations to join in the effort.”
Michael Ben Abu, director of KKL-JNF’s Israel Fundraising Department, who presided over the ceremony, said in his speech that the management and staff of Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank had been among the first to come forward and make a substantial donation to the restoration of the Carmel forests. This initial connection with the bank’s Community Liaison Department has blossomed into joint activities in nature with teams from KKL-JNF’s Education and Youth Division and its one-year-service volunteers in the organization’s Events Department.
Carmel Sela, head of the Hof HaCarmel Regional Council, praised the collaboration between the bank and KKL-JNF: “We are fortunate that you consider the area worthy of being developed, contributed to and made accessible for the benefit of the general public. This is one of the best donations we’ve received since the big fire. If there’s such a thing as true Israeli-ness, it finds expression in KKL-JNF. We’re all well aware that governments don’t like to spend money on the public. Even the Nature and Parks Authority makes people pay an entrance fee to the national parks. Only KKL-JNF gives everything free to everyone, in the most engaging manner possible.”
In his welcoming speech, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler sought to encourage other financial institutions to follow Mizrahi-Tefahot’s example: “There aren’t many financial institutions that can take pride in having created a site that bears its name. You, the staff and management of Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank, can say today: “We made a contribution and did something not just for ourselves, but for all residents of Israel, without distinction.”
Mizrahi-Tefahot’s Community Liaison officer, Moshe Gutman, told us how the
initiative for the donation had come about: “After the big fire, we were sitting wondering what we could do to help. It was clear to us all that not just the bank, but the staff, too, would contribute by giving up some of their holiday time. We began with the decision to restore the Yemin Orde Youth Village sports center that had burned down, but we also wanted to leave our mark by helping to rehabilitate nature in the damaged area. So we approached KKL-JNF, and together we came up with this site. We regard this as part of our policy of being involved in the community through projects in which the bank’s management and staff participate. The bank’s branches adopt institutions and organizations that cater for young people with special needs, and the bank allocates money to fund staff members’ free-time voluntary activities within these organizations. This being the case, it was only natural for us to invite representative groups of the young people we work with to be here with us today, whether they be immigrants from Ethiopia who are studying at Yemin Orde or students at Haifa’s Ofer School, many of whom have come along today with their parents.”
After the congratulatory speeches, Mizrahi-Tefahot’s CEO Yonas and his deputy Rita Rubinstein unveiled the plaque bearing the dedication of the forest recreation area in the name of the bank and its staff. The last few months have seen the construction of a picnic corner, wheel-accessible approach routes and a sophisticated drinking fountain that can be used from the height of a wheelchair. This recreation area is a new addition to those already cared for by staff in KKL-JNF’s northern region, headed by Dr. Omri Boneh, who was also present at the ceremony.
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