One can learn about Israel in the classroom, listen to lectures and read about it in books, but to fall truly in love with the country one simply must explore it. Over the Passover holiday, while millions of Israelis flocked to hiking trails all over the country from north to south, the Ukrainian refugees hosted by KKL-JNF at Nes Harim set out for a special excursion to Beit Itab National Park in the Jerusalem Hills.
“Today is a beautiful day for a trip, with wonderful weather,” said KKL-JNF guide Nataly Veretnik. “This is the best way to get to know the country – through your feet.”
Until just a few weeks ago the members of this group had been living at a children’s home run by Chabad in the Ukrainian city of Zhitomir. The outbreak of war hurled them into an exhausting and perilous journey that eventually brought them to Israel, where KKL-JNF at once volunteered to host them at its Nes Harim Field and Forest Center.
The group included small children in pushchairs, teenagers and adults, and all set out to explore happily together. How far away the war seemed now as they enjoyed walking among the green hills and gaily colored flowering fields. “I’m really glad to be in Israel now,” said seven-year-old Snežana.
As they made their way along their route the hikers passed woodlands of terebinth, oak, fig, almond and olive trees. Most of the children had never visited Israel before, and if any of them had imagined that the entire country consisted of desert, the lush greenery and the magnificent spring clumps of crocus, meadow saffron (Colchicum stevenii) and cyclamen showed them how greatly varied Israeli landscapes can be.
Ein Hod, the little spring that awaited the visitors towards the end of their route, while far from resembling the four great rivers that flow through Zhitomir (Teteriv, Kamianka, Yaroshenka and Putiatynka), is all our own and we love it just as it is.
“There’s nothing like going on a trip to put you experientially in touch with the country,” said Ahuvi, a teacher at the children’s home. “The children are getting in touch with the landscapes and their heritage, and discovering that all the wonderful things we told them about Israel over the years really are true.”
The trip ended at the ruins of Beit Itab, which overlook the magnificent scenery of the Jerusalem Hills and the Coastal Plain, and include the remains of a mediaeval castle.
“I’m really enjoying myself here in Israel and I’d like to go on a lot more trips,” concluded Ukrainian refugee Sara Ira.
The members of the group returned to Nes Harim to continue their stay in Israel. They all hope that the war will soon be over, but until the shooting stops it’s good to know that these Jewish children from Zhitomir are in a safe haven where they can not only live comfortably but also store up memorable experiences and strengthen their relationship to the Land of Israel.