Group photo in Masaryk Forest, with Czech volunteers, Judith Perl-Strasser, Michael Kraus and Roi Harel.
(photo credit: LILAH WEISS KKL-JNF)
For eight years now, a delegation of volunteers from the Czech Republic has been coming to Israel to assist in the cleaning and rehabilitation of the Carmel Forest. After leading the group of Czech foresters in the Carmel back in January, Karl Kana arrived again in Israel at the head of another delegation, this time focusing on the Masaryk forest. The forest is located near Kibbutz Sarid in the Jezreel Valley, and is named after Thomas Masaryk, the Czech Republic’s first president and as a great friend of the Jewish people, loved and visited Israel. The forest was planted 1930 by the kibbutz residents - most of whom emigrated from Czechoslovakia and Lithuania - with the support of Jewish donations from the Czech Republic - to mark Masaryk's 80th birthday.
Masaryk Forest is very diverse in its variety of trees. Originally planted with Aleppo pines and Cypress trees, additional local species were added over the years, such as Carob, Tabor Oak and more. The forest is also home to many olive trees and the remains of ancient olive presses and water cisterns. The most notable attraction, familiar to many visitors to the forest, is the spectacular flowering of the cyclamens in spring and winter.The Czech delegation’s volunteer work was integral to the environmental development being carried out in Masaryk Forest with the support of KKL-JNF Czech Republic. The renovations form part of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the Czech Republic. Traversing the forest is segment of the bike trail that encircles the northern city of Migdal HaEmek, and the Czech volunteers upgraded the trail for the benefit of the riders. They installed picnic tables and trash cans, pruned some of the vegetation along the trail, and cleaned and painted the benches. In other parts of the forest, they engaged in forestry work - tree planting, pest management, sanitation for dry trees, and tree trimming. At the entrance to the bicycle trail is a picnic area with a sign mounted in memory and recognition of Thomas Masaryk, and soon additional signs will be added to create an open museum that will describe the forest, the area, and the connection to the Czech Republic. A disabled-accessible parking lot and picnic ground is also planned.
The delegation was led by Karl Kana, a forest engineer by profession, with 30 years of forestry experience in the Czech Republic under his belt. Karl fell in love with Israel and continues to volunteer here every year.
"The Czech KKL-JNF contacted me and asked us to come to the Masaryk Forest,” he said. “We initially came as a group for the week see the forest, learn what the forest needs, how big it is, and the local conditions. The plan is to later send more groups to work in the forest. Due to our experience in the Carmel Forest, we are the first group to start the project. We did various jobs in the forest - we collected seeds to grow in the nursery, we took down old and dry trees, we treated invasive species, and more. The work is quite varied, and each day we did something new. We love Israel, and our best way of expressing this is through work."
Many people from the Czech Republic want to participate in this special volunteering project. Among the members of the current delegation are Yana and Jerzy Prodkova:
"We wanted to express the friendship we feel towards the people of Israel, because you are surrounded by people who do not like you. We wanted to show that we love you and we do it through this work."
The Prodkovas are visiting Israel for the third time. The first time, they came as tourists. The second time they came as volunteers in the Carmel Forest. "My father was a forester, and as a child, I grew up in the forests and took care of the animals, so I feel very close to all this. We love being here, and both of us wanted to come. We have had a great experience in Israel and enjoy coming here.”
The delegation, which was in Israel from October 24-31, was accompanied throughout their stay and work by Nazareth area forester Roy Harel, who is responsible for the project in the Masaryk Forest. Judith Perl-Strasser of KKL-JNF’s European Department, joined the delegation for part of the time. She congratulated the members of the delegation and thanked them for their wonderful work in the forest.
Michael Kraus, a friend of JNF-KKL President in the Czech Republic Michael Pakowski, who lends a helping hand in various projects, also came to thank the volunteers.
Alongside their work in the forest, the Czech volunteers participated in various tours and meetings. Roy Harel accompanied them on a trip to the Beit Keshet Forest and the Tabor Forest, and introduced them to the Lower Galilee region. The volunteers enjoyed a wonderfully sunny day. The excellent visibility which enabled them to view the open landscape as far as Mount Hermon.
On Saturday, representatives of the Czech embassy came to visit, and joined the volunteers on a picnic held in Masaryk Forest. The volunteers also enjoyed evenings spent socializing with Czech immigrants living in local kibbutzim.
On Thursday, they went to visit friends in Kerem Maharal, in the southern part of the Carmel Mountain range, whom they befriended over the many years of volunteer work by the friends from the Czech Republic.
During their visit, the group also met with the family of the late Eti Azulai, who had worked at KKL-JNF for close to 40 years as the public relations coordinator in northern Israel, and was in close contact with the volunteers from the Czech Republic over the years. Eti passed away last July after a struggle with ALS.