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"Water sources could be depleted by next year." This was a Jerusalem Post headline shortly after the JNF Australia "Young-at-Heart" seniors mission arrived in Israel for two intensive weeks of touring Israel and learning about KKL-JNF projects countrywide. We met the group at the Shlomi Reservoir, where KKL-JNF's Esther Weinstein described Israel's water crisis and the KKL-JNF projects to alleviate it. "Agriculture in Israel is vital for providing us with our produce and is, of course, dependent on water. All the fields you see around here are irrigated by water from the Shlomi Reservoir which stores purified sewage water thereby freeing up sweet water sources for drinking. It is your contribution that makes all this possible."
Paul, a member of Gesher Haziv, a nearby kibbutz, added that the reservoir has a storage capacity of 700,000 cubic meters. "Thanks to the reservoir, we can grow bananas, avocadoes, persimmons and cotton. It has also become a focus of bird tourism - this is now migration season and you can see the birds swimming in the reservoir."
Peter Windholz, leader of the mission, said that the participants have arrived from all parts of Australia. "What everyone has in common is that we all support Israel. Some of the people are visiting Israel for the first time whilst others have been here often."
One of those visiting Israel for the first time was Marcus Levy, who came with his wife Helen. "I actually never wanted to come to Israel! I wanted to go on a Mediterranean cruise with Helen. She agreed but only on condition that we visit Israel. Having been here a few days I must admit that I am very impressed. What has been done here is marvelous, absolutely marvelous."
The group's next stop was Admit Park on the Lebanese border. The bus climbed a narrow mountain road, where everyone appreciated the western Galilee's magnificent scenery. KKL-JNF's Eitan Hadani met the group at the new scenic lookout. "Commemorating loved ones in nature is one of the bonds between Israelis and KKL-JNF. This breathtaking site was dedicated through JNF Canada in memory of Ehud Goldwasser & Eldad Regev, the two Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped in 2006. After arduous negotiations, their bodies were returned to Israel two years later and their families honored their memories by building this scenic lookout, from which we can see the patrol road along the Lebanese border where their hummer was attacked.
"Like many KKL-JNF sites, the lookout and the trail are accessible for the disabled including the visually disabled. The picnics tables are round with spaces for wheelchairs and some of the barbecue pits are at a height comfortable for those in wheelchairs. Whenever the trail turns, there is a different sort of paving, so that the visually impaired can feel it under their feet.
"During the Second Lebanese War, the Hezbollah fired rockets everywhere, setting northern Israel's forests on fire. I found myself, along with many other KKL-JNF workers, trying to put the fires out around the clock. I never thought that's what I'd have to be doing, and I pray that I never have to do that again."
The group walked the trail to the Keshet Cave, an arch that creates a sort of window to the green mountains. We watched people rappelling down from the arch into the valley below and many of the seniors said they also wouldn't mind such an experience. Luckily for Tania Levy, the KKL-JNF guide, who was also responsible for the group's safety, such an activity was not on the itinerary!
Ben Kerzer used to be district chairman of Rose Bay in Sydney. "I started by distributing KKL-JNF Blue Boxes and eventually managed to raise quite a lot. My secret was inviting people to events where gefilte fish was the main course. Who could turn me down after that?"
The group spent a little over two weeks in Israel, and towards the end of their stay, we met them again on a very rainy day at the Yarkon River Park in Tel Aviv, where Efrat Sinai of KKL-JNF's Australian Desk told them about JNF Australia's support of the Yarkon River rehabilitation project. "The headwaters of the Yarkon River are near Rosh Ha'ayin, about thirteen kilometers upstream, where some water is drained off and piped to the Negev desert. There are factories along the river that have been polluting the water with metals and chemical wastes, turning the Yarkon into a major environmental hazard. In July 1997, during the Maccabiah Games, a bridge over the Yarkon collapsed as the Australian delegation was crossing it. This lead to the death of four athletes, with many others injured - not because of the fall, but because of the poisonous brew that the Yarkon River had become. This terrible tragedy led Australian Jewry to sponsor the rehabilitation of the river and the areas around it.
"A sewage purification plant was built upstream, plus constructed wetlands, a new technology that purifies the water to a very high degree. Today, as a result of these efforts, life is returning to the Yarkon. As you can see, there are ducks, geese and other types of water birds and a type of sardine unique to the Yarkon has also returned. The riverbanks have been turned into a beautiful park that serves as Tel Aviv's green lung. JNF Australia is also sponsoring the restoration of some of the ancient flour mills that once used the water flow to turn millstones. This area, the Bird's Head Forest Grove is also a project of JNF Australia. Although it's raining, if anyone is brave enough, we'll go for a walk to the pergola built in memory of Yetty Bennet, one of the athletes who lost her life here, and then to the Donor Appreciation site. Afterwards, we will stop at the memorial plaque that marks the site where the bridge collapsed."
Floris Kelman braved the rain and went for a short walk in the park. "This is my seventh trip to Israel with KKL-JNF but it never gets boring. Although I've seen a lot of the sites, they seem to always be changing and developing. How can I describe it? I would say that it's been a wonderful whirlwind."
Marcus Levy summed up the trip. "It's been amazing, we've learned so much. If they call this a seniors' trip, I can't imagine what the juniors' tours are like!"
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