Celebrating 100 years of KKL Finland

The delegation of 17 KKL Finland members took part in the festive tour that spanned the entire length of the country from the Galilee to the Arava.
KKL Finland’s centenary celebrations, which began in February this year with a gala event at the Jewish Community Center in Helsinki, continued this month with a week-long mission to Israel.

The delegation, comprised of 17 KKL Finland members, took part in the festive tour that spanned the entire length of the country from the top of the Northern Galilee to the Arava in the south. The aim of the trip was to highlight a spectrum of KKL-JNF’s ecological activities, some of which were also sponsored by KKL Finland. Members of the Finish KKL delegation were also quick to point out at every turn that their mission also marks their country’s 100th year of Independence from Russia and Israel’s 70th anniversary of Independence.

The tour guide was Dave Hasenson, who is of Finnish descent, and often served as a translator for the group. He said that members of this particular KKL Finland group were all Christian supporters of Israel, who strongly believe in the Jewish right to the land of Israel.

For many, the highlight of the entire trip to Israel was the inauguration of the Yiftah Accessible Picnic and Recreation Area in the Naftali Forest near Tzfat in the Upper Galilee, which was funded by KKL Finland.

Waiting on site to meet the group was KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol Andy Michelson, who presided over the event. He told the guests that they were in one of the most beautiful places in northern Israel, and that their contribution had made it easier for everyone to come and visit the forest.
“I also must mention the fact that KKL Finland was already active in collecting money to plant trees in Israel 30 years before the establishment of the State. That sort of commitment exists only when people believe that the cause is just and right.”

Finnish citizen and KKL Finland Board Member Samuel Willner, who is currently a Ph.D. student of Middle Eastern History at Haifa University, also arrived for the event. He said that he was thrilled to be there together with other members of KKL Finland.
“Forests are dear to me as they are to most Finns. However, here in Israel, the forests are even more special because they were planted by hand. When one plants a tree, one is investing in the future for the benefit of the country and its children. May these projects be a great blessing for our two countries, Israel and Finland.”

Andy Michelson called on Samuel Willner to unveil the inauguration plaque which read:
“In honor of the friendship and cooperation between the two states, and the 100 years of Independence of Finland, and the 100 years of the Foundation of the Jewish National Fund in Finland, and the 70 years of Independence of the State of Israel. Donated by KKL Finland and friends of Israel in Finland.”

The ceremony ended when each member of the touring delegation was presented with a tree planting certificate for the trees they had each planted the day before in the Tzora-Presidents’ Forest near Bet Shemesh.

Earlier that day, the delegation visited the scenic Hagoshrim Reservoir overlooking the Naftali Hills near Kiryat Shmona, which was established by KKL-JNF friends of Scandinavia including KKL Finland. The Head of the Sewage Department at the Upper Galilee Regional Council, Amatzia Shlomi, told them that all the water in the huge man-made lake is derived from treated sewage and that there are 15 such facilities under his charge.

“Our responsibility is not only to collect sewage and deliver it to a place where it will not present a danger and health hazard, but also to turn the fluid into safe water for agricultural use according to health ministry regulations. Today, between 60-80 percent of agricultural irrigation in Israel comes from treated effluent”

Water specialist Avri Kadmon, who also came to meet the Finnish group, explained that Israel’s severe fresh water shortage pushed the country to find innovative, healthy and hygienic methods to recycle water for agriculture, in order to leave more fresh water for human consumption.
“In Israel, drinking water is never derived from treated water. The country receives some 1.6 billion cubic meters of water per year from natural sources, but the economy utilizes between 2.1 to 2.4 billion cubes per year and that figure is on the rise. The difference is made up by way of desalination, filtered city runoff and treated sewage.”

Finnish Landscape architect Laura Suomi was particularly interested in the design of the various pools. She said that this was her second trip to Israel with KKL Finland, and that besides being a staunch supporter of the Jewish State, she also enjoyed what she called: “The strong culture of landscape design and planning that is evident everywhere in this country”

A vegetarian lunch with wine tasting was served at the Dalton Winery near Safed. Prior to the meal, Dalton Winery Hostess Leora Ben Arush led the group through the facility while showing and explaining how the wine is produced. She said that the location of the winery was a great advantage.
“The plateau where our grapes are planted is 800 - 900 feet above sea level. This high altitude, combined with optimum soil conditions and a cool climate (including a cold winter to give the vines a dormant period) provide the ideal conditions for growing grapes that are suitable for fine wine-making.”

In the large storeroom that housed the gigantic vats and casks where the wine is fermented, the group met Haim Abergil, who is the company’s Kashrut Supervisor. His job is to ensure s that the wine produced is suitable for observant Jews. He explained what differentiates kosher wine from all other wines.

“The principles of making kosher wine are the same as for non-Kosher wine. However to be considered kosher, Sabbath-observant Jews must supervise and handle the entire winemaking process, from the time the grapes are crushed until the wine is bottled and all other ingredients used must be kosher.”

Mission participants, Juhani and Terttu Starczewski are both active veteran fund-raisers for KKL-JNF and have been to Israel six times together. Juhani said that his Polish surname comes from his grandfather who, before settling in Finland as a discharged Russian soldier, was a resident of the Polish town of Lonza, which had been 50% Jewish before the war.
“Today I am a Christian but I may have Jewish ancestors. In fact, there were 40 people from Lonza with my surname who were killed in Auschwitz.”

After lunch it was a short bus ride to the Biriya Fortress, built on KKL-JNF land during the time of the British mandate to serve the Jewish armed forces in the area. The fortress is situated in the Biriya forest, which is one of Israel’s largest forest spanning some 20,000 dunams with over five million trees. Today the location includes a fascinating visitor center documenting the site’s history and struggle as a settlement prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. After viewing a short film portraying the spirit of the time, the group heard how in February 1946 the British discovered weapons hidden by a Palmach unit in the fortress, arrested the 24 members and seized the facility for a short period.

KKL-JNF’s Biriya Fortress and Forest Manager Avishay Cohen said that one of the most sensitive and little-known spots in the forest is a small group of cedar trees which were planted in January 2007 after the Second Lebanon War by family members of soldiers who fell in the fighting.
“I want to point out that today, the 21st of March, is the first day of spring and for some unexplainable reason during this season, this patch of trees produces an amazing amount of rare and exotic flowers such as the butterfly orchid, the Italian orchid, and various Irises.”

Reino and Liisa Kurki-Suonio who are both senior University lecturers in Finland said that they had been to Israel so many times that they are unable to keep count.
“We love Israel and the fact is that despite the unfavourable press Israel receives in Finland, most Finnish citizens have a good affection for this country.”

After gathering up the members of the group who had scattered through the fortress and the nearby forest, tour guide Dave Hasenson said that they still had time to visit the old Jewish quarter in Safed.
“That will be our last stop today because we will have no energy left after walking up and down the hills of the ancient city. We need to return to our hotel to gather strength for our long agenda tomorrow which includes visiting the Banias and the Christian sites on the Sea of Galilee.”

On route to their bus, some members of the Finnish group met David Tov, a Yemenite Hassid who was gazing at a hill in the distance where Rabbi Yossi Hagalili was buried. He told them that Rabbi Yossi Hagalili was an important Jewish sage who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.

“He was one of the Tannaim, those rabbis whose work was included in the Mishna which is the basis of Jewish oral law. I look at his ancient grave and ask: ‘How can anyone say that this land is not the land of the Jews’.”
His audience nodded in agreement.