nir barkat kkl.
(photo credit: )
It would be difficult to imagine a better way of ushering in this year's Tu Bishvat festivities than the tree-planting event that took place at Jerusalem's Ir Ganim Park on Monday, February 2. Hundred of special needs children from all over Jerusalem assembled for a morning of music, talk, field activities and of course tree planting in the valley beneath Jerusalem's Ir Ganim neighborhood. They were accompanied and assisted by family, friends, teachers and young people from the Bnei Akiva and Magen David Adom youth movements.
The audience was greeted by Ms. Sarah Salman, director of the Jerusalem Municipality Tzamid (Special Needs) Department. "It's so beautiful and sunny today, it must be in honor of all of you. I want to thank everyone who helped make this event possible, especially Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, which supports us very, very, very much, this year and in previous years, and without which we couldn't be here enjoying nature and planting trees."
Mr. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem and a long-time supporter of Tzamid, made certain to participate in the day's special events. "It's not yet technically Tu BiShvat, but I don't think it's too early to wish everyone a happy holiday. I hope to see everybody out in nature, like you are, during the next few days. It is very moving for me to be here, to see everyone and hear the music. Special thanks to KKL-JNF, Mr. Yigal Yasinov and Mr. Dudu Ashkenazi for organizing today's events."
KKL-JNF Deputy Chairman Mr. Yigal Yasinov, who is also responsible for KKL-JNF's Education Division, thanked Mayor Barkat: "Mr. Barkat, who took office only a few weeks ago, is the first mayor of Jerusalem who made it a point to personally participate at the annual Tzamid tree planting ceremony. For KKL-JNF, our connection with the Special Needs population is one of our most important missions. I would also like to remind everyone that most KKL-JNF sites are user-friendly for the physically challenged. Please come and spend time with us in nature with your families and friends, there is no better form of recreation. Happy Tu Bishvat!"
Between the speakers, the crowd was treated to Tu BiShvat melodies and songs performed by Michael Gindin's band and also by a Darbuka band from Abu Ghosh, both of which are comprised of special needs children.
After the ceremony and music, the children divided up into two groups. One group went to plant trees, while the other participated in activities organized by the Bnei Akiva and Magen David Adom volunteers. Activities included using natural materials to make bookmarks, crowns and flowers on sticks. When the first group finished planting their trees, the groups switched activities.
Many of us take the ability to bend down and plant a tree for granted, but for some people, the act of getting down on the ground and the coordination necessary to dig a hole and plant a tree in it is no small effort. When seeing the children plant their trees and being helped by those who were accompanying them, there was an overwhelming sense of how special things can be when there is love and mutual concern - not to mention how happy everyone was!
Mayor Barkat planted his tree together with an Arab child from East Jerusalem, who was waving the KKL-JNF flag.
We spoke with Barak of Efrat and Sharon Weiss from Kiryat Arba, two tenth-graders helping with the activity stations: "Being here and working with the Tzamid children is one of our Bnei Akiva projects. We actually meet with them all year long and they come to our clubhouse. Tu BiShvat is the perfect time for us to get together in nature."
Tal, an eighth grader from Gilo High School, told us about what the tree planting ceremony meant for her: "It's really great to help people who can't always help themselves. There is nothing more satisfying than the smiles you see on their faces when they pat the ground down around their trees after planting them." Bar, another eighth grader, added: "After participating in today's ceremony, I decided to spend a lot more time volunteering with these children, who really are 'special'".
On our way out, we met Sarah Salman, the director of Tzamid, and Laura Warton, a new city council member responsible for special needs people. Sarah told us a bit about KKL-JNF's involvement with this community, with help of JNF America: "I know most people think KKL-JNF is about ecology, forests and water, but I want to let them know that when it comes to the special needs community, KKL-JNF is like family. Besides the tree planting ceremony that takes place around the time of Tu BiShvat every year, KKL-JNF helps organize Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for the children. We also have an ongoing horseback riding program in collaboration with KKL-JNF in the Ramot Forest. And I must tell you about what is probably the year's highlight for the children - a one-week long camp in the forest during August, when there are no other activities for them. During the day, the kids work in the forest pruning trees, cleaning and marking forest trails, and at night, they have social activities. Beyond any doubt, this is their favorite activity of the year. They wait for it all year long."
Music played in the background, and as we left, we saw a circle of children and their helpers dancing in the park. That moment of joy provides the perfect image with which to inaugurate this year's Tu BiShvat activities.
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