Monday, February 13, 2017 1:02 PM
A group of volunteers from the Czech Republic are in Israel in order to help with KKL-JNF’s rehabilitative work in the Carmel Forests.
A group of volunteers from the Czech Republic are in Israel in order to help with KKL-JNF’s rehabilitative work in the Carmel Forests. For six years, since the December 2010 Carmel fire, volunteers who love Israel come from this country around Tu Bishvat, and work for two weeks together with the KKL-JNF foresters.
At 7:00 in the morning, when most people are just waking up, six volunteers are already in the forest. They are wearing appropriate clothing, have gloves on their hands and protective helmets on their heads. Armed with the professional equipment they brought with them from the Czech Republic, they are ready to work.
“It’s important for us to demonstrate our love for Israel, and this is the reason we come to work in the forest,” said Stanislav Bocek, the head of the group, who lives in Chotebuz. Unlike most of his friends, for whom this is their first visit in Israel, he is a veteran volunteer who comes to Israel every year. “We have created friendships with a number of KKL-JNF representatives, and we feel that we are very welcome guests here,” he said.
This year there is an added value to their work, because they are creating a firebreak around Kerem Maharal, a community that was founded by Holocaust survivors from what was then Czechoslovakia. The village is named for the Maharal of Prague, a famous sixteenth-century rabbi.
Eighty-eight year-old Arye Tziezler, a Holocaust survivor of Slovakian origin and one of the first founders of Kerem Maharal, invited the members of the group to his house. He was very excited about meeting guests from his old country and to talk Czech with them. “It’s very moving to meet people who came to volunteer for KKL-JNF. I told them about my life, how I survived in Auschwitz.”
Forty-three members of Tziezler’s family were killed in Auschwitz, and only he and his father survived. At the end of the war, they immigrated to Israel and were caught by the British authorities, and were then sent to an incarceration camp. His father was also one of the founders of Kerem Maharal.
The connection between the volunteers and Tzeizler was made by KKL-JNF forester Micha Silko. Tziezler raises a herd of cattle, and one day, while his cattle were grazing in the field, the two of them met. They sat down together for a cup of coffee, began talking, and Tzeizler opened up and told Silko about his experiences during the Holocaust. Since then, they have been friends. When the group of volunteers from the Czech Republic came to Kerem Maharal, it was only natural to arrange a moving meeting between them.
Micha Silko expressed his great appreciation for the volunteers’ determination and professionalism.
“They do amazing work,” he said. “Over the years, a real connection has been created between the KKL-JNF foresters and the volunteers, and we have become just like family.”
For Jiri Bartik, who lives in Olomouc, this is his first visit to Israel.
“We were surprised to see what a charming country this is, not just because of the warm people, but also because of how beautiful nature is here.”
In response to the question as to what caused him to leave his daily routine to come volunteer in Israel, he said:
“We believe that Israel is a unique nation. We heard about the fires that broke out here and we wanted to help in a practical way. We’re cleaning up the forest around the village, so that if a fire breaks out, the flames won’t reach the residents’ houses. The local people are grateful to us, and it’s very moving.”
Besides the volunteers who come to Israel regularly, friends of KKL Czech Republic contributed a new fire engine, which will also help protect the forests. The Czech government contributed to planting a forest as a symbol of the good relations between the two countries.
During their work here, members of the Czech group formed warm ties with the local residents, for example, with Hila Bahat, whose house is located next to where the volunteers were working. “It’s amazing to see people who come from far away especially in order to volunteer here. A wonderful friendship has developed between us,” she said.
After she asked then many times, the volunteers agreed to accept Bahat’s invitation and join her for a homey lunch.
“We were here during the huge Carmel fire in 2010, and we saw how our homes almost went up in flames,” Bahat recalled. “Now the volunteers are protecting our homes so that we’ll be safe in the future.”