Keren Kayemet L'Israel invites nation's youth to celebrate Tu B'Shvat

Monday's gathering was within the framework of a week of Tu B'Shvat oriented activities that included the planting of trees in the Lahav Forest in the southern part of the country.

President Reuven Rivlin with three generations of artichokes growers (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin with three generations of artichokes growers
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
No organization is more associated with Tu B'Shvat, the new year for trees, than Keren Kayemet L'Israel or the Jewish National Fund as it's known in English.
If you say JNF to senior citizens who remember the early years of the state or or even the years before that, it conjures up an image of the Blue Box into which Jews living in other countries placed a coin on Friday just before Sabbath candle lighting.
The accumulated monies from Blue Boxes around the Jewish world was used to purchase property in the Land of Israel, to drain the swamps and to plant trees.
If you say JNF to a visiting dignitary, it means planting yet another tree in a grove named for the visitor's country, or in the Grove of Nations at Yad Kennedy in Jerusalem or in  the Trees of Peace grove just below Yad Vashem.
For many dignitaries, it is the first time that they have ever planted a tree, and it is a very personal, meaningful and even emotional experience.
But if you say Keren Kayemet to people living in Israel it can mean a myriad of things from building a new community to leadership training and informal education which offers a variety of programs for youth.
On Monday of this week, which coincided with Tu B'Shvat, KKL-JNF placed its focus on youth and at a ceremony at the President's Residence distributed certificates of excellence to outstanding young people from all over the country including those with special needs, as well as to members of the Druze and Bedouin communities.  There were also enough youngsters of Ethiopian background to guarantee that they were not there for token appearance, but because they deserved to be there in recognition of their leadership abilities, their community service and their promotion of Zionist values.
Among the special needs boys and girls were blind, deaf, Downes Syndrome, and those with various other disabilities that placed them in wheelchairs.
But everyone fitted in with everyone else because one of the key principles in KKL-JNF's informal education programs is acceptance of and respect for the other, coupled with integration.
The informal education programs are conducted with different youth groups such as the Scouts, Bnei Akiva, pre-military schools, Civilian National Service and others.
Monday's gathering was within the framework of a week of Tu B'Shvat oriented activities that included the planting of trees in the Lahav Forest in the southern part of the country.
Looking out at the demographic diversity in front of him Rivlin said that it was heart-warming to see so many youth who are potential leaders of the future.
Noting that well over a century had passed since  the concept of the Zionist vision had become the mission of contemporary Jewry, Rvlin said that the JNF  had been established in 1901 by delegates to the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel. The original purpose was to purchase and develop land in what was then Palestine under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
The needs of the young country caused KKL-JNF to adapt accordingly and to broaden its horizons
While it still fosters a love of nature, the organization encourages service in the IDF, the inclusion of people with special needs at all levels of society, reduces social gaps and promotes equality. Taking these and other values collectively, Rivlin termed them "the highest level of Zionism."
As land on which to build becomes increasingly scarce, KKL-JNF will be creating fewer communities in the future than it did in the past , but according to KKL-JNF World Chairman Daniel Atar, KKL-JNF  is determined to boost the populations of both the Negev and the Galilee, which he said will each become the cyber hubs of the Middle East.  The goal for 2040 is to have a million residents in the Negev and half a million in the Galilee.
To prepare for this , the organization is now introducing training in technological subjects so that today's youth  can be tomorrow's leaders in cyber and other technologies. "We invest a lot in giving youth the tools with which to spread their wings and move forward," he said.
He was also pleased by the growing numbers of young people who are taking responsibility not only for their own futures, but for the future of the nation.
KKL-JNF will be among the major players at the 38th World Zionist Congress scheduled to be held in Jerusalem in October this year.
In addition to hosting the KKL-JNF Rivlin in a separate event on Monday also hosted three generations of farmers whose main produce is artichokes. The group was led by Noam Yakoba, who chairs the division of artichokes growers in the Plans Production and Marketing Board. Yakoba struck an emotional chord with Rivlin when he told him that artichokes had been planted in the presidential garden by Rivlin's late wife Nechama who was a very keen gardener, and who brought groups of school children to create their own gardening plots in the presidential compound.
Among the many people who planted trees on Monday was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who planted a tree in the Jordan Valley.