Worlds Meet at Michmash Tree-Planting

Sunday, January 27, 2019 2:40 PM

“I’ve visited Israel in the past, but this time it’s different. I feel more at home here and I’m more familiar now with Israeli culture."
- Suzanne Margolis, Masa participant from New York 

Young American, Russian and Ukrainian participants in the Masa Israel Journey program plant trees together with IDF Border Guard recruits on their base in Michmash.
Is there a better way to connect with Israel than planting trees on Tu BiShvat together with young Jews from abroad and IDF combat soldiers who protect the country? This was precisely the mix present at the Michmash Border Guard base in the Judean Desert.
“Tu BiShvat is a holiday for putting down roots and growing,” said Director of KKL-JNF’s Overseas Education Department Hani Dassa. “This exciting encounter between young people from all over the world and Border Guard recruits provides a memorable and valuable Zionist experience that these youngsters will carry with them on their journey through life.”
Two hundred and fifty young people from the USA and the former Soviet Union who are taking part in the Masa Israel Journey Program celebrated together at the event. Program participants remain in Israel for ten months, during which they volunteer, study Hebrew, tour the country and take part in a variety of activities and meetings.
“I’ve visited Israel in the past, but this time it’s different,” said Suzanne Margolis of New York. “I feel more at home here and I’m more familiar now with Israeli culture. Our meeting with the Border Guards and the tree-planting has given me a sense of real connection to the country.”
Commander of the Michmash base Ram Kaho told his guests about the Border Guards’ work to protect Israel’s borders. “Today we are strengthening the connection between people and their homeland and watching how the trees take root,” he observed.  
The Border Guards put on a display of fieldcraft, combat equipment and counter-demonstration tactics. They showed their guests the special camouflage suits they wear in the field, and even exhibited the talents of Cheetah, a dog trained to arrest suspects, sniff out explosives and drugs – and also play happily with the soldier who trains her.
Arthur Kovton of Ukraine came to Israel with his wife and their daughter, who is just one and a half years old. “I love Israel very much, especially its natural landscapes, its weather, the wonderful people and the atmosphere of community. We’ve already decided that we’re going to stay on and live here,” he told us.
His friend Sergei Kunyaev, who hails from Moscow, is likewise considering immigrating to Israel with his family. “It’s a very interesting country, and we’re learning a great deal here,” he said.
The Border Guards and the young visitors from abroad formed happy groups that danced together and sang Israeli songs. Deputy Commander Yehuda Yehoshua, who is in charge of Border Guard training, expressed his satisfaction as he observed the immediate rapport between all those present: “This wonderful group of youngsters has come from all over the world to get to know Israel,” he said. “Don’t forget to come back in a few years’ time to visit the trees you’re planting today and see how they’ve grown,” he reminded them.
The base’s rabbi Shmuel Ehrlich welcomed the guests and told them: “You’ve come from different places, and today you’re planting trees in Israel. These trees symbolize your connection to the country and your love for it.”
Hani Dassa and Director of KKL-JNF’s Education Division Simon Elbaz presented the Border Guard officers with certificates of appreciation.
After Suzanne Margolis had read the Planter’s Prayer in Hebrew, everyone set out to begin the planting. The desert hills that surround the base, which lies to the northeast of Jerusalem, provided the perfect backdrop for the event: barren and parched for most of the year, now thanks to the recent abundant rain they sported a downy green mantle in honor of the event.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Kai Tenenberg of New Jersey when the planting was over. “I feel much more connected to Israel now.”
“And we’re doing something for the good of the environment, too,” added Amanda Lasser of New York.
The event concluded with dialogue groups in which the young Masa participants spoke with immigrant soldiers from the base who told them about life in Israel and the challenges of military service.
“Despite the different languages we speak and our different backgrounds we all connected, and there was a special bond between us,” said Paulee Manich of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. “I celebrate Tu BiShvat in the USA every year, but this is the first time I’ve done so in Israel, and it’s a completely different feeling – a sense that I’m in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. This holiday symbolizes the connection with Israel and I do actually feel connected to the country now.”
“Today these young people experienced the real Israel,” concluded Hani Dassa. “And by planting trees they have left behind them a tangible sign of their love for the country and the land.”