A special event was held on Tu BiShvat at the Border Police Training Camp at Mikhmash by the KKL-JNF Education Division. Soldiers, bereaved families, Diaspora Jewish youth and Israeli students participated in planting an ecological grove in memory of Border Police casualties. The trees will be irrigated with treated waste water from the base having been processed by a treatment plant established on the base with help of KKL-JNF.
The new grove brings with it a significant contribution to various realms: It brings new life to the desolation, rolls the desert back, takes advantage of the trees' ecological contribution to reducing global warming, prevents environmental pollution by raw sewage spills, helps obviate the need for expensive fresh water resources, creates a recreation and rest area for the soldiers and their families and establishes a memorial site where families can remember their loved ones.
Among those participating in the ceremony were Yael Shealtieli, KKL-JNF's CEO and Major General Israel Yitzhak, commander of the Border Police.
"This joint KKL-JNF and Border Police project manifests above all the tie between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel, which is the essence of Tu BiShvat", said Shealtieli. "Tu BiShvat is the holiday of the Land of Israel. It focuses on our homeland's soil and the preservation of nature. IDF soldiers represent true Zionism by safeguarding the State"
The desert hills surrounding the base, which is located north east of Jerusalem, were a befitting backdrop to the event. The usually arid desert was covered with some patches of green in honor of Tu BiShvat.
Major General Israel Yitzhak told those present that Tu BiShvat is a holiday of renewal and growth with the new grove growing and developing in the spirit of the holiday. "There is nothing that manifests permanence more than a tree", said the commander of the Border Police to his soldiers. "We all aspire for the day when we can lay down our arms, cease fighting and sit under our fig trees and vines".
The event marked the gathering of various groups, all constituting a portion of the rich mosaic that forms the People of Israel. The Border Police planted saplings together with young Jews from the US and UK having arrived in Israel for a few months as part of "Young Judea" in the US and FZY in the UK. They were joined by students from the Branco Weiss high school in Beit Shemesh who were excited with the opportunity to visit a military base and plant trees with soldiers. The Planter's Prayer was read by a bereaved father, Hananaia Peretz, and Natasha Rosenfeld, a young American.
The joint activity strengthened the bond between all these groups. Oded Revivi, Mayor of Efrat, expressed it well when he said that the gathering of Israeli students and Diaspora youth, IDF soldiers and bereaved families, all planting trees together, is a meaningful experience that cannot take place anywhere else but in Israel.
The unique relationship between KKL-JNF and the Border Police has been in place for the past 4 years within the framework of project "Homeland Landscape" and involves a number of joint activities. The Tu BiShvat event is one of the culminating events of this joint activity alongside events such as Holocaust Day Memorial at the Scrolls of Fire Monument in Kisalon Forest in the Judean Hills.
Project "Homeland Landscape" is a KKL-JNF educational project aimed at enabling youth from Zionist movements from across the world to enjoy the KKL-JNF program. Every movement was given its own forest and its members come to the site throughout the year to cultivate it. Currently, about 20 organizations participate in the program which also includes mobile educational vans that operate activities in the realms of Zionism and ecology.Yirmiyahu David
, the project director, explained that when the youth work at the site and plant trees with their own hands, a real connection with the land is established. According to him, the Border Police absorbs many new immigrants and hence the natural affinity to this unit. This link has become so mutually meaningful that the Border Police basic training program includes a mandatory day with KKL-JNF.Dr. Bentzi Bar Lavi
, Director of KKL-JNF's Education and Youth Division, said that the best example for the concept known as "the people's army" is the "grove that we are planting here today, demonstrating the connection between Zionism and ecology."Brigadier General Amos Ya'acov
, commander of the Border Police Training School, emphasized the fact that planting a tree strengthens the bond with the national homeland not only in words but in action.Alon Shefi
, representative of the bereaved families, spoke of the green color of the Border Police uniforms and berets. "When the Border Police green meets the KKL-JNF green, only good can come out of it. We came here today to create a new life in memory of those who fell."Ruth Shamor
who lost her brother after the Six Days War noted that planting a memorial grove at a Border Police base proves that the bereaved families were not abandoned and the fallen sons not forgotten.
The memorial plaque was unveiled by bereaved father, Talal Madakh
, the father of Tali'a, a Druze soldier who fell in action. After unveiling the plaque, all participants proceeded to plant trees. The young people from abroad were particularly excited by the joint activities with soldiers. Trees were planted, both by soldiers who defend Israel's borders and young people who may make Aliya, may live here and even possibly serve in the IDF sometime in the future.Mxine Ullmann
came to Israel from England with members of FZY. "To plant a tree in Israel is a different experience than planting one in England. Obviously, here, trees are needed much more. We have a strong bond with Israel but it has grown even stronger following this day."
Her friend, Hasia Levenson
, added, "I have visited Israel many a time but to come and live here for a few months and become involved with what is happening in the country is a different feeling than coming over as a tourist."Aaron Tankel
from the US came over with a Young Judea delegation and mentioned his special relationship with KKL-JNF. "In the US, there are Blue Boxes in which we place our contributions. I understand the importance of a financial contribution but truthfully, coming over to plant a tree with my own hands is a far deeper experience. When I return to the US, I'll always know that something of me is left behind in Israel."Michael Freeman
, Deputy Director for Young Judea, said that the young people who came to Israel may make Aliya someday, among other things, because of the unique experience which they had with KKL-JNF and the Border Police.
Israeli youth too, no less than Diaspora youth, viewed the visit to an army base and the joint activity with soldiers as an unforgettable experience. Maria Kol-Zion
, 17 year old from Beit Shemesh, said that she plants a tree every Tu BiShvat. However, this time, there was something special to this holiday. "Generally, soldiers are occupied by war but today, they actually gave life," said the young woman.
As for the soldiers, undoubtedly, they were delighted to have a break from the training routine and meet young contemporaries from different places. Moshe Gu'ata
, a soldier from Lod, expressed his delight that the base's surroundings will be greener thanks to the grove. "When the trees grow, it would be a pleasant place where one could relax", he said.Ma'or Gilbo'a
, a soldier from Givat Ze'ev, said, "As soldiers, we safeguard the country so that citizens can sleep peacefully in their beds. However, if one wishes to safeguard the country for many years to come, one needs to plant trees."
At the end of the planting, participants watched an impressive presentation of Border Police soldiers who displayed their skills in storming, firing, shooting at targets and camouflaging themselves. The young visitors even experience paintball shooting at targets.
Afterwards, on base, the young people from abroad met new immigrant soldiers who came from France, Sweden, Australia and Russia. They told them of their decision to make Aliya, to serve in the IDF and contribute to the country. They also spoke of their pride in doing the above and of the difficulties involved in overcoming absorption challenges. At the end, the participants were asked how many intend to make Aliya and dozens of hands were raised.
The exciting day was concluded with a joint Tu BiShvat Seder where they discussed the significance of the holiday, sang songs of the Land and ate dry fruits as part of the tradition of the holiday.
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