Yesterday I spent the day with three families visiting from America who went on our JNF weekly tour to the Northern Negev. Our JNF tour guide, Shahar Hermlin, and all the participants made the trip so special for me. Shahar, just has a way with words. I listened to him speak as we drove on the highway leaving Jerusalem on the way to Sderot. He talked about his grandfather who fought in the War of Independence. As he spoke he used the words like "we fought this war," " we were here in 1948," we saw the establishment of the state of Israel." Although he wasn't alive, he felt the sense of his country. That is something so accurate in the state of Israel. We are a "we" country. There is always this sense of national and group identity.
We got to the Sderot Playground and none of the participants had ever seen the place before. Shahar explained the significance and uniqueness of having a place where kids can play and be safe from rockets. Because of all the rockets that Hamas fires into Israel, JNF built the largest secure indoor recreation center for the children of Sderot. There was an 11 year old participant that I was talking to and she said to me, "Ilana, this place is so cool." She kept climbing on the climbing wall, shooting the basketball hoops, and just enjoying life. She is too young and had no idea why this place is so special and so sad. For an 11 year old American from New Jersey this is an indoors fun place. For us Israelis we know the necessity of a "rocket-proof" structure in Sderot so that the kids can play, so that parents can throw their kids birthday parties, Bar Mitzvahs, etc and be close enough to shelter areas. Having some sense of normalcy is what has been established through the JNF Playground.
While driving to Beer Sheva to see all the development and plans to make Beer Sheva continue to bloom as envisioned by David Ben Gurion, I learned that in the early 20th century the Ottoman Empire was ruling Palestine and while fighting battles, they would need to fuel their trains. They therefore burned down so many trees in modern day Israel for building, trains, etc. This is a horrible consequence of colonization and war that I was not aware of.
JNF has planted almost 240 million trees since its creation in 1901. Each time I go on a weekly tour, and discover more and more of Israel, I learn something new and gain a greater appreciation for the work that I am a part of. Trees have little to do with this conflict but unfortunately, they too are affected. Each time a rocket is sent into Israel, damages occur. In 2006, during the second Lebanon War, some 800,000 trees were lost in the North from Hezbollah Rockets. Every time you and your family come to Israel and plant a tree, or plant a tree in honor or memory of someone, you are doing your part to build your roots in Israel and we at JNF are so grateful to you for that.
Ilana Frankel | Administrative Associate - Israel Operations
The JNF weekly tour leaves every Wednesday from Jerusalem. You can purchase a ticket and join us by clicking HERE.