A Journey of Independence

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 10:37 AM

From the silent forests of Poland to the vibrant forests of KKL-JNF

After a tough, emotional trip to Poland that included the March of the Living at Auschwitz, thousands of young people from all over the world arrived in Israel to celebrate Independence Day. They connected to Israel’s landscapes by cycling and taking part in green, environmentally-aware hikes all over the country. “We feel, more than ever before, that we belong to the Jewish people and are part of the State of Israel,” they said.

Thousands of young people from all over the world, participants in the March of the Living in Poland, came to Israel to celebrate its seventieth Independence Day. They toured KKL-JNF forests, went bike riding out in nature, attended musical performances, and participated in a mass march to the Western Wall. Hundreds of them participated in a green, eco-friendly bicycle trek on KKL-JNF routes that was organized by the Overseas Department of KKL-JNF’s Education Division. Among the places where they rode were the Ben Shemen Forest in central Israel, Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, and the Hula Lake in the north.
“The trip in Poland was tough and emotional, and the tour in Israel was really fun,” said Chelsea Dawidowicz, 17, of Brussels. “When we get on a bike in Israel’s landscapes, we feel much more connected to the country. Now we are all excited to celebrate Independence Day here.”
“The cooperation with the March of the Living organization gives expression to the link between the memory of the Holocaust and rebirth,” said Hani Desa, Director of the Overseas Department in KKL-JNF’s Education Division. “The experience that KKL-JNF provides connects the young generation to love of the country and to the power of the Jewish people in its rebirth.”

Of Birds and People

Pupils from the Ganenou School in Brussels went on a bicycle tour in Hula Lake Park, where they enjoyed the lovely landscape as well as a fascinating encounter with the local flora and fauna.

“I have visited Israel many times in the past, but when we come with a group after traveling to Poland and celebrate Independence Day here together, the experience is particularly moving,” said Liora Goldsztejn, 16. “We feel more than ever that we belong to the Jewish people and that we are part of the State of Israel. After walking and riding here, we feel more connected to the country.”

The pupils listened to a talk about Hula Lake Park, Israel’s main bird-watching site and one of the most important ones in the world. The park is a model of successful integration of nature, agriculture, and tourism. During the 1950s, the State of Israel drained the Hula wetlands in order to develop the soil for farming. Many years later, it became clear that draining the area had harmed the quality of the water in the Sea of Galilee, and KKL-JNF was called upon in the early 1990s to re-create the lake. KKL-JNF continues to develop the site with the help of its friends throughout the world.

Celebrating Life

The members of the delegation arrived in Israel after their trip to Poland, during which they learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the history of the Jewish communities that were destroyed. On Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, they commemorated the fallen soldiers of the Israeli army and the victims of terror attacks, who laid down their lives for the State of Israel. They celebrated with joy on Independence Day together with all of Israel’s citizens, and with all the members of the Jewish people.

“This trip has been an amazing experience,” said Sam Jachir of Brussels. “Every Jewish person ought to visit the death camps in Poland. There we saw death, and here in Israel, we celebrate life.”

The event in Jerusalem began in Safra Square with dance performances, singing, and drumming circles. Phyllis Greenberg-Heideman, president of International March of the Living, welcomed the delegation members and suggested that they take selfies as mementos of the event. Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of March of the Living, led them in a rousing chant of “Am Yisrael Hai.”

A living, rushing stream of humanity, made up of thousands of young people, began marching toward the Western Wall, waving flags and singing. Aircraft flew overhead as the Israeli Air Force performed its annual flyover in honor of Independence Day.

This joyful and emotional day that marked the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s independence concluded with a gala event at Latrun as dancers, singers, and musicians performed in a cavalcade of shows.

Deputy KKL-JNF Chairman Hernan Felman spoke at the event, saying: “We will not forget those who dreamed of the Promised Land and never lived to see it. You came from the darkness of the Holocaust to the State of Israel. We have come a long way in seventy years. This is our country, with Jerusalem forever united. You are all my members of my family, and this is your home.”

Riding in the Forest, Feeling at Home

Approximately 130 pupils from four schools in Panama City went on a cycling trip in the Ben Shemen Forest. “The participants in the March of the Living get to experience cycling in KKL-JNF’s forests, enjoy the activity, and see KKL-JNF’s great contribution to nature in Israel,” said Dovi Paritsky, a representative of the Overseas Department of KKL-JNF’s Education Division.

“It’s fun to bike in the forest, and I was glad to see that there are so many trees here. It is obvious to me that this is mostly thanks to KKL-JNF,” said Ralph Schwartz, 17. “We experienced a life-changing trip, from the sorrow in Poland to the joy of Independence Day in Israel.”

Solly Leibovitch said that he had family in Israel whom he visited every year, and that his trip as part of the delegation was very different from his usual family visit. “We realize today how important it is that the State of Israel exists — not only for the Israelis, but also for the Jews abroad. It does not matter where you live; when you come to Israel, you feel at home right away.”

The Ben Shemen Forest, which spreads out over approximately 5,500 acres, serves as a green lung and a focal point for activities in nature for people who live in Israel’s center. KKL-JNF built many walkways, bicycle paths, recreation areas, and picnic areas in the forest. The Ben Shemen Forest is the first forest KKL-JNF planted in Israel more than a century ago, as the opening shot of what would become the most impressive forestry enterprise in the country.

The delegation members rode along the challenging route, and enjoyed the refreshments and cool drinks awaiting them at the finish line. “It was fun to ride a bicycle in nature. My friends and I enjoyed it very much,” said Victoria, 17. “We had an amazing journey from Poland to Israel, from the Holocaust to independence.”

“We feel like one big family”

On the last day of their visit to Israel, the members of the Miami group went on a bicycle trip from Yarkon Park to Tel Baruch Beach. “When we rode along the shoreline, the salty air reminded me of home in Miami,” said Emily Aronson, 18. “We all feel like one big family, even though we come from the other side of the world.”

Eitan Dooreck-Aloni comes from an Israeli family who moved to Miami. He spent his childhood in north Tel Aviv, in the very places where the bicycle route passed through. Next year he intends to begin his studies in Israel. “I am very connected to Israel and come to visit every summer,” he said. “I was glad to see many of my American friends fall in love with the place that I, too, love so much.”

“The experience in Israel was amazing,” said Freda Sion. “Every time I visit here, I feel more connected. I know that I have a place here, which is home.”

The delegation members from all over the world returned to their homes with a deeper understanding of their Jewish identity and a meaningful connection to their community and their people. The experiences that they underwent in their journey from Poland to Israel, from Auschwitz to Jerusalem, from the silent forests of Poland to the forests of KKL-JNF, brimming with life, will stay with them for the rest of their lives.