(photo credit: KKL - JNF)
Dozens of representatives from the Migdal Insurance Company - from the CEO to young workers - planted the first trees in the Migdal Forest, located on the southern coastal plain at the feet of Hill 69. The planting took place several days before the holiday of Tu Bishvat.
Yonal Cohen, CEO of the Migdal Company, explained that this was not only an opportunity to emphasize involvement in environmental issues, but also to offer the Migdal Company workers a day of outdoor activities and enable them to participate in the traditional tree planting.
The tragic fire in the Carmel Forest was one of the factors that served as an impetus for the Migdal Company to quickly mobilize itself and plant trees in Israel. Since it is not yet possible to replant the Carmel, an alternative site was chosen. The three water towers that stand at the top of the hill are remnants from the days of the British Mandate and provide an impressive setting. Coincidentally, the historic towers resemble the logo of the Migdal Company whose name means "tower".
Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman, sent greetings in honor of the event, stating that "Planting trees is environmental insurance for tomorrow." The job of an insurance company is to look wisely towards the future, and this is the place where the Migdal Company and KKL-JNF meet."
The 300 Jerusalem pine trees that were planted in the forest mark the beginning of significant development work that will be carried out in the next few years through contributions from the Migdal Company. Ten thousand trees will be planted in the forest, the historical site on Hill 69 will be renovated, the water towers will be reconstructed, and a recreation area will be built.
Baruch Gazit, Head of Operations for Migdal, was among the initiators of the cooperative project with KKL-JNF for planting the forest and developing Hill 69. Gazit described the beauty of the hill with a smile, as "Having all four directions of the wind and a view of the sea."
After presenting the stages of development at the site – planting a new forest, rehabilitating a developing forest, and enjoying activities in a mature forest, Gazit explained that the Migdal Company operates in the same manner by combining the answer to existing needs, long-term solutions, and diligently working towards rehabilitation and improvement.
Ami Uliel, head of the southern region for KKL-JNF, was reminded of his army days in the armored corps when he took part in tank training exercises in the area of the hill. "There were only a few trees here at the time," Uliel said. "The hill with its historic beauty remained engraved upon my heart, and I'm grateful that I was able to take part in developing the site." Approximately 8,000 trees are to be planted in the southern region during Tu Bishvat.
During the ceremony, Michael Ben Abu, director of Israeli fundraising department, remarked that the KKL-JNF is pushing back the desert by planting forests and developing the forests for the benefit of the public.
Elisha Mizrachi, head of the region for KKL-JNF, referred to the connection between responsible financial management that characterizes the Migdal Insurance Company, and management of open areas on the part of KKL-JNF. "The wise move is to preserve the fund for future generations. Whatever we bequeath to our children and grandchildren is now in our hands. That is the meaning of the concept of endurance."
Mizrachi presented the story of the bloody battle that took place on Hill 69 during the War of Independence. The hill was the last command post left to block the advancement of the Egyptian army towards Tel Aviv. Forces belonging to the Givati Brigade were entrenched on the hill and fought off a large number of well-armed Egyptian forces. The fighters succeeded in holding back the attacking forces until the cease-fire went into effect, and by doing so were able to halt the advancement of Egyptian forces towards the center of the country. The hill remained under the control of the Egyptian army until it retreated to the Gaza Strip at the end of the War of Independence. 20 Israeli fighters were killed in the battle. A memorial site that was built by the bereaved families stands at the summit of the hill. In 1971 KKL-JNF decided to dedicate the hill and the surrounding area of 120 dunams to commemorating the soldiers who fell in the battle by planting a grove at the site.
Esther Bersky, who lost her brother Issar Bersky in the battle, represented the bereaved families at the ceremony. She expressed hope that the site would not only be a place where the bereaved families would meet, but a place for the general public to come to learn about this chapter of the history of the People of Israel and enjoy nature.
Several veterans from the battle on the hill also attended the ceremony, including Seadia Cohn, who arrived with his daughter and granddaughter. "It moves me to see young people planting trees here at the place where I fought and lost many of my comrades. It's important to us that the young generation hears the story of the battle for Hill 69. All Israeli children should hear the story of the battle just as I tell it to my children and grandchildren."
Yaakov Mizrachi, head of the Givati Brigade Association, explained that the
association works to preserve the heritage of the Givati Brigade and the memories of the brigade's fallen soldiers. According to Mizrachi, the best way to do this is to bring tourists such as school children and families to the sites where the battles took place.
Doron Sapir, Vice CEO of Migdal, noted that Migdal is an organization that attributes great importance to environmental and social responsibility. Another example of social involvement of the Migdal Company is its sponsorship of the "Muzot" School, a secondary school for the arts for endangered youth in Yaffo. Talented students from the school participated in the dedication ceremony and sang, "Here stands a lone cypress tree, against fire and water." The students also sang "The Nature Preservation Waltz" and other popular songs.
After the ceremony, all the participants descended the hill to the planting site. The Insurance company workers were not deterred by the mud from the rain that had fallen the previous day. They patted the earth down around the trees as if they were promising them a good future. It is not easy to be a young tree in the desert, but KKL-JNF foresters will watch over the trees until they are mature and strong.
300 small pine trees now stand where there was once only bare earth. Soon 100,000 trees will surround the heritage site that will be well-tended and filled with life.
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