(photo credit: KKL)
The rescue of the Chilean miners who were trapped deep underground for 69 days was watched and cheered by the whole world. A mission of 26 of the 33 trapped miners, accompanied by their families, is now visiting Israel and has planted olive trees – the symbol of hope and life.
The site selected for the tree planting was at the co-existence Dalton-Gush Halav Trail in the Galilee that links two diverse communities. The ceremony was attended by KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler, and Director-General of the Ministry of Tourism, Noaz Bar-Nir.
The unique trail where they planted trees has been developed thanks to the Ergas-Lopez family from Santiago, Chile, and was the perfect location for the miners to bond with the soil of Israel. Laid for walkers and cyclists, the trail is 2,500 meters long and connects the Jewish community of Dalton with Jish, Gush Halav, which is home to both Christians and Muslims. KKL-JNF has set up sculptures along it, as well as benches for resting and fitness equipment. The trail was officially inaugurated about two months ago, in the presence of members of the family of the Chilean donors.
“Trees symbolize life, and indeed we have received our lives as a gift,” said Omar Reygades, who was one of the trapped miners. “When we were stuck down there, we never imagined that one day we would be so famous that we would visit Israel and many other places around the world. But it’s important to remember that we’re not the real heroes. Those are our families who went through such a tough time.”
At the ceremony, Efi Stenzler said, “The people of Israel were totally gripped, watching breathlessly throughout your struggle for life. Together with people from around the entire world, Israel’s citizens prayed for your welfare and we are now so happy to see you whole and healthy and here in Israel.” In concluding, Stenzler hoped that the miners would one day return to Israel to see how the trees they had planted were growing and fruitful.
Also at the ceremony, Noaz Bar-Nir, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism, pointed out that the planting of trees is an ancient tradition in the Holy Land, and also represents over 100 years of green activity by KKL-JNF. “Israel pro-actively cultivates the environment, on behalf of its citizens and also for the benefit of tourists who visit here,” he said. In his warm greetings to the guests, he remarked that the planting of these trees is a modest way of paying tribute to the miners’ courage and of honoring nature as well as humanity.
At the end of the official speeches, the tree-planting prayer was read by Luiz Urzua, miner no. 33 – the last miner to be rescued from the underground depths. And the entire group then went to plant olive trees together.
The miners did not make do with just a symbolic planting and smiles for the cameras. They displayed their strong connection with the earth and a genuine desire to endow the new trees with strong life. They dug shallow craters, spent a lot of time tending the immediate environment around each tree, and could barely tear themselves away from the trees they had just planted. Many of them noted down the exact location, so that they would be able to find their own tree when they come back some day.
“Since we were rescued from the mine, we have visited many places around the
world,” Urzua said. “But there’s absolutely no doubt that this is one of the most exciting places. It has filled us with a deep feeling of faith. Our lives were placed in real danger, and Israel also deals with dangers to its existence. At the most difficult moments in life, prayer is the only thing that strengthens us.”
As the ceremony came to a close, an unplanned meeting took place with the Minister of Agriculture, Orit Noked, who arrived at the site with no connection at all to the miners’ visit. She was accompanied by the head of the Merom Galil (Galilee Heights) regional council, Amit Sofer. Their visit testifies to how the new trail has turned into a main site for the local residents as well as for visitors from Israel and overseas. “We are very happy to host you here in Israel,” the minister said to the miners. “Let’s all pray together for peace, for then this country will really become paradise.”
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