Last Wednesday (11th May 2022) Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) had the honor of hosting Ecuador’s President, Guillermo Lasso, and his wife, First Lady María de Lourdes Alcívar, for a special tree-planting ceremony at the Grove of Nations. Located in the heart of the Jerusalem Forest just below Yad Vashem, the grove is home to trees planted by Heads of State from around the world as a gesture of peace and friendship with the State of Israel.
The event took place during President Lasso’s first official visit to Israel; the first ever, in fact, to be undertaken by a sitting Ecuadorian present. The President was accompanied by his ministerial delegation, as well as the Ecuadorian Ambassador to Israel, Helen Deller Klein, and the Israeli Ambassador to Ecuador, Zeev Harel. Also in attendance were KKL-JNF Vice Chairman Hernán Felman; Head of Resources Development and External Affairs Division at KKL-JNF, Ronnie Vinikov; and Nili Pitchon, Director of the KKL-JNF Latin American Desk.
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso, with First Lady María de Lourdes Alcívar. Photo: Rafi Ben Hakun, KKL-JNF
At the ceremony, President Lasso stated: “This visit fills me with great pride and satisfaction. When I was a child, the names of the State of Israel and David Ben Gurion were mentioned a lot at home; the founders were evoked in my family as heroes, and indeed they were; they gave life to a nation which can be summed up in one expression – a constant and lifelong fighting spirit."
"Populating this land, turning it into green areas, is the clear testimony of that fighting spirit, perseverance and resilience; and all this was done with the greatest love for this sacred land. I congratulate you. We have come to Israel to learn something from this admirable experience," added Lasso.
Planters Prayer, with ambassadors Helen Deller Klein (Ecuador) and Zeev Harel (Israel). Photo: Rafi Ben Hakun, KKL-JNF
In his address, KKL-JNF Vice Chairman Hernán Felman said: "The Republic of Ecuador and the State of Israel have maintained a warm and fruitful friendship, even since before Israel gained independence. Ecuador was one of the most prominent countries to open its gates to Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and it also voted in favor of the creation of the Jewish State at the United Nations in 1947. Both countries have officially maintained diplomatic relations since 1950, shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, which have prospered enormously."
President Lasso covers the roots of his tree with soil, with KKL-JNF Vice Chairman Hernán Felman (left). Photo: Rafi Ben Hakun, KKL-JNF
"I am hopeful that the visit of the President and his distinguished entourage will help further strengthen the ties of solidarity and partnership between Ecuador and the State of Israel – friendly nations, which, despite the distances and the cultural differences, have much to share and offer each other,” added Felman.
"The tree that you will plant, Mr. President, will be marked with your name for posterity, to blossom in Jerusalem, and together with Jerusalem,” he concluded.
Unveiling the plaque honoring Ecuador at the Grove of Nations. Photo: Rafi Ben Hakun, KKL-JNF
Nili Pitchon, of KKL-JNF’s Latin American Desk, remarked: “We thank you for choosing to be here today, for planting a tree that will forever flourish in the Land of Israel. Together, we will continue to cultivate our historic homeland and achieve the miracle of making the desert bloom every single day, opting for life and the future, for the people of Israel and for all of humanity."
The President receives a planting certificate from KKL-JNF’s Ronnie Vinnikov. Photo: Rafi Ben Hakun, KKL-JNF
In the course of the ceremony, the Ecuador’s ambassador to Israel recited in Spanish the Jewish prayer for planting a tree, followed by a Hebrew rendition by the Israeli ambassador to Ecuador.
The tree was planted in a pot and not in the ground, since we are now in a year of Shmita - the biblically mandated sabbatical for the Land of Israel during which no planting is allowed. Once the Shmita year is over and the next Jewish New Year begins, the tree will be transferred to its rightful place in Israel’s holy soil.