Kiryat Shmona to honor Jewish COVID victims with olive trees promenade

Inclusion within the project comes at no cost to the communities.

Kiryat Shmona to honor Jewish COVID victims with olive trees promenade (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kiryat Shmona to honor Jewish COVID victims with olive trees promenade
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Ayelet Hashachar organization recently launched an initiative to honor the deaths of Jewish COVID-19 victims across the Jewish Diaspora.
The organization intends to honor the victims by building a promenade - to be known as the "Path of Life" - in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, lined with over a 100 olive trees. Each tree is intended to represent a different Jewish community from across the world affected by the health crisis.
"What is the main defining characteristic of the COVID-19 era?" asked public activist Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, who founded Ayelet Hashachar.
"The coronavirus brought about separation and disconnect," he said. "It separates between countries, divides communities and splits families. It’s about being lonely and alone.
"My goal is to foster connection. Every Jew has an intrinsic connection to Israel. Let's help them develop that connection and make it grow."
The organization will make available information on the different Jewish communities to visitors of the promenade, using a dedicated application. It will feature eulogies, historical anecdotes and any other information that the community wishes to include.
Inclusion within the project comes at no cost to the communities.
The significance of the site doesn't lie within the stunning scenery, but more in the symbolism of the city. Israel's northernmost city is no stranger to terror, bereavement and hardships. Its name stands for eight people, including Joseph Trumpeldor, who were killed while defending Tel Hai in 1920. More recently, it has also become the target of rocket and terror attacks
"Throughout the years, Diaspora Jewry has always been there for Israel," said Rabbi Raanan. "We felt that the time had come for us, here in Israel, to show them our solidarity and support during this very challenging time."
Kiryat Shmona has long-been attempting to attract visitors and even residents to the area in recent years.
"I am proud and gratified to have this opportunity to reach out to Diaspora communities and commemorate their COVID victims," said Mayor Avihay Shtern. "There are many memorials, but I've yet to see one honoring those who succumbed to the pandemic – even though we're almost a year in, and it's taken such a heavy toll globally."
Shtern adds that the walkway will serve as "a living history lesson" for local residents as well as the many visitors and tourists who visit the Upper Galilee.
"I think it's important for us to remember, and for the children of the future to know, what happened during this period," he said. "The coronavirus will soon disappear, but we must never forget those who were lost to the disease."
Kiryat Shmona Mayor Avihay Shtern pictured next to Rabbi Shlomo Raanan. (Courtesy)Kiryat Shmona Mayor Avihay Shtern pictured next to Rabbi Shlomo Raanan. (Courtesy)
The grand opening of the promenade is scheduled to take place on March 4.
“There is a beautiful verse in the book of Job: ‘For a tree has hope; if it is cut it will again renew itself and its bough will not cease.’ Trees signify revival, particularly olive trees,” said Rabbi Raanan. “They are a perfect metaphor for the Jewish People.
"Even when it looks lifeless, the olive tree still retains vitality deep inside. Olive trees are also very adaptive; they survive tough periods and can live for thousands of years. It's certainly appropriate that the olive tree is the symbol of the State of Israel.”
“The coronavirus separated people from their loved ones, often forcing victims to die alone," the rabbi added. "This memorial accomplishes the opposite, bringing communities together and uniting people.”
Rabbi Raanan is also offering interested communities the opportunity to plant entire olive orchards in places of national importance.
“There are vast tracts of land across Israel that are neglected, and illegal squatters take advantage of the situation. Communities can plant their own orchards in areas of national importance - the Galilee, the Negev, the Jordan Valley," he explained.