KKL Finland Celebrates Tu Bishvat and its 100th Anniversary

From February 1-5, KKL Finland celebrated Tu Bishvat and the organization’s 100th anniversary.
Special events included meetings between representatives from KKL Finland and KKL-JNF in Israel with Finnish members of parliament, the Finnish Jewish community, and Finnish environmental professionals. The highpoint of the festivities was a gala evening on Saturday night, February 3, which took place at the Jewish Community Center in Helsinki.
Over one hundred guests attended the festive dinner, including all the members of the KKL Finland Board of Directors, major donors, representatives from other Jewish Finnish organizations, KKL-JNF representatives from nearby Nordic countries, members of the Jewish community and Christian supporters. KKL-JNF International Cooperation Department Director Karine Bolton-Laor and Liri Eitan-Drai from KKL-JNF’s European Desk represented KKL-JNF Israel. KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar sent special greetings to the celebration.

KKL Finland President Ethel Salutskij noted that on December 6, Finland, too, celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence. “KKL Finland was founded very soon after the legislation guaranteeing civil rights for all went into effect. For the past hundred years, KKL Finland has been one of the most central organizations in the small Jewish community here. People often choose to plant trees to mark joyful occasions and to express condolences when someone passes away. Planting trees is a way for us to leave a green footprint in Israel that improves the air breathed throughout the world.

“To honor our 100th anniversary, we have published a book written by Mrs. Anna Luntinen that documents the history of KKL Finland. In March, a KKL Finland mission to Israel will inaugurate the Yiftah Accessible Picnic and Recreation Area in the beautiful Naftali Mountains Forest in Upper Galilee. This year’s Tu Bishvat activities emphasize promoting unity and coexistence between all the sectors of Israeli society, and we are honored to be a part of KKL-JNF’s vision for Israel and the Jewish people.”

In his address, H.E. Mr. Dov Segev-Steinberg, Ambassador of the State of Israel to Finland and Estonia, congratulated KKL Finland on its 100th anniversary on behalf of the State of Israel. The ambassador spoke about KKL-JNF’s central role in developing Israel, and its planting of 250 million trees around the country to date.

“As a result of this important work, Israel is today one of the few countries in the world where forests are increasing,” he said. “And this is despite the fact that we live in a very challenging environment. As an Israeli Ambassador serving in a country which is 70% covered with forests, I can only be jealous of your beautiful nature and trees. In Israel, we might never be able to reach the same percentage, but we are working hard in order to make the country as green as possible.”

On the topic of Israel’s hard-earned expertise in agricultural know-how and environmental sustainability, the Israeli ambassador emphasized that Israel was proud to share its expertise with other countries.

“This is one of the areas where the Government of Israel – namely the Israeli agency for international development cooperation MASHAV and the KKL have been cooperating successfully”, he said.
Speaking on behalf of KKL-JNF headquarters in Israel, Liri Eitan-Drai from KKL-JNF’s European Desk said that she had an opportunity to meet some wonderful, hardworking people who are passionate about supporting Israel, its people and the environment. “I especially want to thank KKL Finland’s president, Ethel Salutskij, who is a perfect example of dedication. KKL Finland is a model of dedication and efficiency, and it is my continued pleasure to see all of you in action. Your organization is like a heart for the Jewish community in Finland, just as your actions help build a better, greener Israel for future generations.”

The special greeting sent by KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar was read by International Cooperation Department Director Karine Bolton-Laor. In his remarks, Atar noted that “this evening, we are marking, with great pride, 100 years of activity, accomplishment, creativity and Zionism; 100 years of implanting roots and bringing hearts closer by means of KKL-JNF – between the marvelous Finnish community and the Jewish state, the state of Israel. Thanks to your contributions and support and to additional, similar offices throughout the world, we share our original thinking, initiatives and the professional knowledge we have acquired over the years, with organizations and countries that have need of it for their survival when dealing with phenomena like drought, the world food crisis and desertification, among others. After 117 years of activities, we can proudly say that today KKL-JNF is a leading international organization that is partner to dozens of forums, organizations and conferences that are led by the United Nations.

“I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the volunteers, the employees, the directors, the boards of directors. Thank you to the donors, supporters and loyal friends, who are devoted to their task and have successfully, often in complicated circumstances, achieved great things for KKL-JNF and the state of Israel for one hundred years.”

The evening’s keynote speech was delivered by Director General of the Africa and Middle East Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Leena-Kaisa Mikkola, who shared some of her personal and professional experiences and thoughts about Israel. “We saw and experienced Israel in so many ways that one doesn’t usually read about in the newspapers, realizing what a diversified and fascinating society has developed there. There has always been many friends of Israel in Finland, and they make a major contribution towards strengthening and diversifying the good relations between our two nations. For Israel, being a multicultural nation has not always been easy, but it can also serve as a major resource for the society. I wish the best of luck and success for Keren Kayemeth Finland, which is now 100 years old.”

At the conclusion of the festive evening, which was accompanied by an uplifting piano performance, the aforementioned book on the history of KKL Finland over the one hundred years of its existence, written by Anna Luntimen after intensive and extensive research, was offered for sale.

Finnish Chief Rabbi Simon Livson on Trees, from a Torah Perspective

At the Saturday morning services that took place in the local synagogue, Rabbi Simon Livson, the Chief Rabbi of Finland, focused on trees and why they play such a central role in the Jewish tradition: “We just celebrated Tu Bishvat, and this Shabbat we mark the important work that KKL-JNF does in the Diaspora and of course in Israel. KKL-JNF is an environmental organization and one of its most important activities is planting trees in Israel. Trees play a very important role in the Jewish tradition and in the world in general. Jewish texts mention trees very often. The Torah is compared to a tree - Etz chayim hi lamachazikim ba – “It is a tree of life for those who cleave to it". In addition, we are all familiar with the significance of trees in the Garden of Eden: "From all the trees you may eat....but you must not eat from the Tree of Knowledge.” In times of war, we are not allowed to fell trees randomly. We have to relate to a tree with a certain respect, since it has an important part to play in our ecosystem.

“Human beings are compared to trees. There are three parts to a tree - the roots, the trunk (including the branches and the leaves) and finally, the fruits that the tree brings forth. The roots serve two purposes – firstly, they transfer nourishment to the tree from the soil and secondly, they protect the tree from falling and getting damaged. So too, a person needs to be rooted to his tradition and build his/her identity through it. These roots will protect him during his life, giving him confidence and nourishing him. A person with roots can stand high as a proud individual.

“The trunk, branches and leaves represent a person’s actions, how they behave in society at large as well as with those close to him. They represent the mitzvot, that is, the good deeds that one does. The trunk, together with the branches and leaves, is the part of the tree most visible to its surroundings. So too, we are seen by others through our actions. The more rooted we are, the more Godly our actions can potentially be.

“The tree exists for the purpose of bringing forth beautiful fruits, and this is the final and most important message about trees, which are so connected to Tu Bishvat and KKL-JNF. The tree doesn't live just for itself, it lives for a bigger purpose. It is part of the idea of continuation and sustenance. All of the tree’s energy is directed towards creating life. The "baby" of the tree is, so to speak, its fruit. The tree gives of itself to its surroundings through the fruits that it brings forth. This, too, can be compared to a person. Each person has a purpose in this world and through their actions they are able to create something not only for themselves, but also for others, and most importantly for future generations. A person’s fruits are their children, who are their future. We should strive to have a mindset that we do things in our lives so that future generations will continue in the right path.

“This leads us to the work of KKL-JNF as an organization. We can find all the metaphors and models we derived from trees in the work of this wonderful organization. KKL-JNF understands the importance of trees to our surroundings, which is why planting trees is one of KKL-JNF’s central mission. KKL-JNF educates the people of Israel about the importance of one's roots, trunk, branches and leaves - and most importantly about the value of giving something of yourself for the greater good, which we have compared to the fruit of the tree. Every tree that is planted makes a difference in so many ways, as we can all see. KKL-JNF’s importance and relevance for of us is that it enables us to plant our roots deep in the Jewish tradition, to do good deeds through our trunks, branches and leaves, all of which in turn facilitates the strengthening of the fruit - the people of Israel."
“Mazal tov to KKL Finland on its 100th anniversary. May you continue to go from strength to strength in the important task that you are doing.”