(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
On Thursday, July 8, Ben Shemen Forest in Israel's central region filled with the sounds and sights of a few hundred United Synagogue Youth (USY), who were spending an activities day in the forest as part of their visit to Israel. The event, which was organized by KKL-JNF's Youth and Education Division, headed by Dr. Bentziyon Bar-Lavie, was the young people's first encounter with KKL-JNF in Israel. During their stay, they will be working at a KKL-JNF forest in the Judean Mountains and planting trees at KKL-JNF's Aminadav Tree Planting Center.
David Keren, the director of USY programs in Israel, described the group: "Eight different groups are here today, all of which are in Israel for four to five weeks. Before coming to Israel, they spent a week in Poland or somewhere else in East Europe. USY is the youth movement of Conservative Jewry in the United States and Canada. This is the main event of our summer program in Israel, and we expect that after these young people graduate high school, at least a third of them will be participating in Netiv, our one-year program in Israel."USY cooperates very closely with KKL-JNF. Part of what the groups visiting here do is to work at a KKL-JNF site and plant trees in Israel. This is one of the most important ways of creating a bond between these young people and the land of Israel, by working the earth with their own hands. We have found that working with KKL-JNF makes a very strong impression on them, which quite often inspires them to return to Israel in the future."
Activities in the forest included all sorts of group activities, some of which were led by KKL-JNF guides, such as ropes and ladders and a game involving a huge map of the land of Israel. The young people were divided into eight groups, each with its own color. Spirits were high and everyone was brimming with energy. After the forest activities were completed, the groups made their way to the Mitzpe Modi'im amphitheater for the concluding ceremony, at which David Keren thanked KKL-JNF for their cooperation: "I specifically want to thank Yirmi David, head of KKL-JNF's Nof Moledet project, for making this event possible. When you travel the roads of Israel and see how beautiful and green our country is, remember that it is largely thanks to KKL-JNF."
Dr. Bentziyon Bar-Lavie, Director of KKL-JNF's Youth and Education Division, welcomed the USY group: "It's great to be here, I really like the energy. Your work is part of KKL-JNF's Nof Moledet program. Nof Moledet means 'the landscape of our homeland'. Earlier, I mentioned to David that Nof Moledet's first project was together with USY, when we arranged that Hill 16 in the Judean Mountains would be the place where USY young people visiting Israel would work. This is where you can have your own piece of your homeland; it is your home in the land of Israel. This is how we create a partnership."
At the ceremony, KKL-JNF guides Yoav Dagan and Adi Portgang played and sang a song they had especially written for the occasion.
Yirmi David later explained that Hill 16 is located between the village of Beit Zayit and Sha'ar Hagai on the way to Jerusalem: "USY groups are responsible for this site's upkeep and maintenance, which gives them a sense of continuity. Depending how much time they'll be spending in Israel, they'll all be doing some work at Hill 16. Work includes pruning, planting trees, trailblazing, cleaning and other tasks."
of New Jersey said that being connected to USY was a family affair for him: "My sister is a doing a summer camp in the Ukraine for Jewish families there, so they can have a Jewish experience. I'm looking forward to planting a tree in Israel."Jamie Leidner
of New York said
he was also looking forward to planting a tree: "When my grandparents
passed away, we planted trees for them, which was the first time I
heard about KKL-JNF."
We also spoke with Jessi Plotkin
and Jacob Green
of Edmond, Oklahoma, and Alex Harvey
San Diego, California. They were all visiting Israel for the first time
and admitted that prior to today, they hadn't heard about KKL-JNF:
"Being in Israel is a very powerful experience, especially after first
being in Eastern Europe. Outside activities in the forest are really
fun, and we realized that KKL-JNF is about trees, wildlife and nature."
Jacob added: "If someone back home asks me what KKL-JNF is about I'll tell them that it's what keeps Israel healthy!"
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