About 500 residents from Gaza border communities participated in a fun nature experience at the KKL-JNF Nes Harim Field and Forest Center. The children and their parents enjoyed a variety of performances, workshops, games, and activities for the whole family with the KKL-JNF crew.
For years, Gaza envelope municipalities have been coping with the complexity of life near the hostile border. To the old familiar threats – including the firing of Qassam rockets and mortar shells, terrorist tunnels and the infiltration of terrorists – a new threat has recently been added: incendiary kites and balloons. Dozens of fires are started every day, in fields, forests, nature reserves, and municipalities. Dozens of square kilometers were set on fire in hundreds of arson incidents.
Aviad Cohavi of Kibbutz Gevim attended the happening with his wife and their three children. “A day like this gives us a feeling of release and getting away from the pressures. It’s very important for the kids, and for us, the parents,” he said. As a tractor operator in the agricultural fields, he is on the frontline of the struggle against the kite and balloon terrorism. “Every day I’m busy with putting out fires. It’s heartbreaking to see our fields and forests go up in flames.”
The activity started with a show for children, with music and songs, and a lot of love for Israel. The children learned about history and learned of KKL-JNF’s work to cultivate the land. During some of the more familiar songs, the children and parents jumped up to dance together.
“This day is all about giving,” said Yirmi David, director of the Nes Harim Education Center. “Our goal is to bring out the Gaza Envelope residents for an experiential break and embrace them with love.”
Gili Maimon, KKL-JNF’s public relations director, stated that the day’s goal is to enable the residents to relax a little from all the pressure and just enjoy the activities and the serenity of Nes Harim.
In addition to having fun, this special day was a morale booster to the residents on the frontline, letting them know that they have not been forgotten by the rest of the country.
“The hug we’re receiving here today is a statement that what happens in the Gaza Envelope is still on the public agenda,” said Sagit Danieli of Kibbutz Sa’ad. “We continue our day-to-day lives, because this is what maintains our sanity.”
Her husband Itamar added: “Life on the Gaza border isn’t simple. It’s not pleasant to leave the house and see vast areas that have been burned and blackened, but our community is strong, and we hope for better times. On this day we feel the hug we’re receiving from the rest of the nation.”
KKL-JNF’s Nes Harim Field and Forest Center is nestled between the forest trees and faces the breathtaking panorama of the Jerusalem hills. The center, developed with the assistance of KKL-JNF’s friends worldwide, includes wood cabins for accommodations, an innovative conference center and well-equipped indoor and outdoor classrooms. The center hosts many groups from across the country, who come for a variety of experiential workshops in nature, educational activities, conferences, and events.
On the sports field, everyone participated in sporting activities – shooting hoops, ping-pong, football, billiards, ropes and ladders, and checkers. Survival workshops, a station for making mosaics, and storytelling corners were situated at different spots in the forest.
Grandfather David Keidar of Kibbutz Nir Am came to Nes Harim with his children and grandchildren. “It’s wonderful to get a chance to spend time with the whole family in a place that’s nice and green,” he said.
His granddaughter, 11 year old Naama Katz, said: “living in Nir Am is fun. The situation doesn’t scare me, because I’m already used to the alarms, but there are some kids who are scared. Yesterday I saw a fire that broke out in a field right by us, and I called the fire fighters to let them know. Instead of seeing green from our house’s window, now all we see is black.”
Among the participants were the five children of the Posner family from Ofakim, who came with their mother Inbar. “A day like this gives us a break from the reality of day-to-day life, and of course it’s also for the kids to have fun on their summer vacation,” the mother said.
Inbar says that when a code red is sounded, each of the children has a role, and the big ones keep the little ones from getting too frightened and help them run quickly to a safe location. Twelve year old Nitay is in charge of his little sister Adi, who was born into this reality of rockets and alarms. “We know that a rocket might fall by our house any day,” Nitay said, “but today we can also be free, forget about all the balagan [chaos] and just enjoy ourselves like any other child anywhere in the world.”
The activities were not limited to children. The adults were also invited to participate in theater and laughter workshops, and they discovered how freeing it is to laugh out loud and with all their hearts. In another workshop they created shirts from old articles of clothing. Among the activities’ participants were people from all walks of life – young and old, religious and secular, residents of cities, Kibbutzim, and agricultural villages, veteran residents and recent immigrants. Together, they all enjoyed the activities in the forest and got to know each other.
The veteran Israelis were joined by a group of recent immigrants from Ethiopia. They are currently residing at the Ibim Absorption Center, which is located north of Sderot. Among the immigrants was Padka Manibal, who arrived in Israel 7 months ago. He came to Nes Harim with his wife and four children. “A day like this, when we are invited to have fun with the kids, gives us the feeling that here in Israel we are all one,” he said.
Livnat Ben Haim of Gilat said that when she heard about the event she immediately signed up without hesitation. “It’s a day that breaks the routine. Thanks to KKL-JNF for this wonderful event.” Her six year old daughter Ella, who heard her mother being interviewed, piped up: “We had fun today, we played a lot of games!”
The day ended with the launching of peace balloons. Despite the launching of balloons that spread destruction and terror from one side of the border, on the other side, we continue to build, create, and hope for peace.