Ben Gutmann was very moved as he stood together with his wife Susan at the dedication ceremony of the park and playground equipment they donated to the children of Nofey Perat: "I had a dream to bring my American family with me to Israel for my birthday and for us all to spend time with my Israeli family. I had the dream, but it was Susan who made it into a reality. Susan also decided that we should celebrate here, at Nofey Perat, the community we have fallen in love with. We owe all the residents of Nofey Perat and KKL-JNF a huge thank-you.
"My grandparents were killed in Auschwitz in 1943. We visited the death camp three years ago, and I was haunted by the thought that I am the same age as my grandparents were when they were murdered. I bear my grandfather's name and could be killed for the same reason. My grandparents have no tombstone and never made it to 60.
"When the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was in Poland, he once again vowed 'never again'. In order that this should not just be a slogan, we must act. We reap the benefits of the sacrifices the Israeli people make. In fourteen years, the children who are playing in the park now will enlist as soldiers in the Israeli Army, something my children will never have to do. It is thanks to their sacrifice that we will never again be subject to the fate of my grandparents, and this park is a small way of showing our gratitude. Thank you."
Ben Gutmann is the president of JNF in Northern New Jersey. His wife Susan told us that when Ben decided he wanted to do something in Israel in memory of his grandparents, Tali Tzur KKL-JNF Emissary in New Jersey arranged for them to view the sites of various KKL-JNF projects proposals in Israel. "When we drove through Nofey Perat and saw all the mothers and children who didn't even have a place to sit down, we decided that building a park here was what we wanted to do."
Ben added that his strong connection to KKL-JNF began in 2003: "That year, because of the terrorist attacks, touring Israel wasn’t very popular, to say the least. I told Susan that Israel was where I wanted to go, and we found a JNF mission that was getting organized. There were only five other people who had signed up, but JNF made a decision that they would send the mission regardless of how many people were in it. That's when I fell in love with KKL-JNF."
Esti Goldwasser represented the residents of Nofey Perat at the ceremony, which was expertly emceed by KKL-JNF's Avinoam Binder: "2,600 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah walked these very hills, as is written in Jeremiah 12:4-5: 'And the word of the Lord came to me the second time saying…Arise, and go to Perat.' Today we walk in the footsteps of the prophets and rebuild the land of Israel. We live on the border of the Judean Desert, with a view of Jerusalem, Maale Adumim and the Dead Sea. The park you have built is located precisely at the junction of three future neighborhoods of our community.
"We are celebrating three occasions today: First, the dedication of the magnificent playground that was donated by Ben and Susan as a gift to Nofey Perat. Second, the eighteenth birthday of Nofey Perat. In 1992, a group of Hebrew University students came to this site and set up a few tents. There was neither running water nor electricity, but they were motivated by their belief in the Jewish people's right and obligation to settle their homeland. Today, 140 families later, we are thankful for everything we have here. And third – on February 16, 1950, Ben Gutmann was born, and we have the privilege to be celebrating his sixtieth birthday with him and Susan. We want the Gutmanns to know that they are part of our family, and Nofey Perat will always be their home whenever they visit
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"We would also like to thank JNF America and KKL-JNF in Israel for their
professionalism in planning and building the park, to the point of even making sure that all the plants here are desert-friendly and don't need much water."
As a token of the community's appreciation, Etti Goldwasser presented Ben and Susan with two leather-bound bibles embossed with the impression of a coin found near Jericho. The words "peace on Israel", were imprinted on the coin.Mr. Avi Dickstein
, Executive Director of KKL-JNF's Resource and Development Division, noted that Joshua crossed the Jordan only half a mile away from the site of Nofey Perat: "This week, we will be reading in the weekly Torah portion about the commandment to contribute – at that time, for the Tabernacle. Last week, we read the portion of Mishpatim, where we are instructed 'not to be biased in judgment'. Three thousand years later, a Jewish journalist by the name of Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl was present at the biased trial of Alfred Dreyfuss, and as a result he became a Zionist. A few years later, he was instrumental in the creation of the Jewish National Fund, realizing that the way to develop Israel was by means of donations from the Jewish people throughout the world. Ben and Susan, you have become important partners of ours and distinguished members of the KKL-JNF family. This is just the beginning!"Mr. Russell Robinson
, CEO of JNF America, said that the Gutmann Park was all about the art of love: "Today's ceremony, as beautiful as it might be, is not the main focus of your trip. This trip to Israel is about your feeling for Israel, and your commitment and love of the Jewish people. The ceremony is a sidebar to who you are. I was in Israel a couple weeks ago on Tu Bishvat, planting hundreds of trees in Maa'le Adumim. When we see the trees of the land of Israel, we see the roots of our love of our land.
"To love, create and build our land, we need to work hard and invest lots of time. Your grandparents perished in the Holocaust, and in their memory, the children of Nofey Perat smile and laugh as they play in the park. Thanks to you, we are sending a message that we will be here tomorrow and forever."
Twelve year-old Almog
thanked the Gutmanns in the name of the children of Nofey Perat: "When I was six, we moved to Beverly Hills for a while. We came back here one and a half years ago, and for me, it was coming home. After today, Nofey Perat is also your second home. Thank you for this wonderful gift. The park brings a lot of joy to both parents and children. We wish you many more years of happiness and fulfillment in everything you do."
The children sang "Happy Birthday" to Ben in English and Hebrew, and presented him with a birthday cake. Russell Robinson invited Ben and Susan to unveil the plaque dedicating the park in memory of Benno and Hedwig Gutmann
and to plant a tree. Ben, Susan and the grandchildren who were in Israel posed for a group picture, celebrating life and joy in the Jewish people's new and ancient homeland.
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