Families from the South Enjoy a Chanukah Reprieve in Yatir Forest

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

"We enjoyed a perfectly perfect day!" - Hannah Shenhav of Sderot

About 400 children and their families from various towns and kibbutzim near the Gaza border and in the Negev region participated in a festive Chanukah happening in Yatir Forest, courtesy of KKL-JNF.

The children enjoyed a variety of activity stations: building menorahs and dreidels from natural materials, decorating sufganiot (donuts), baking pita bread, music workshops and performances.
The festivities were the initiative of the KKL-JNF's Education Division for the Southern Region, in collaboration with the KKL-JNF Field Center in the Yatir Forest. "Our goal today is to both give visitors a great time and to communicate values," emphasized Hagit Ohana, Director of Education at the KKL-JNF's Southern Region. “It is especially important for us to host residents living near the Gaza Strip in this calm and quiet forest, a place far from the danger zone.”

Among the group of 80 people from Sderot who came to participate in the event was Ricky Hassan, who came with three of her nine children. "It's a lovely and exciting day," she said. "We really needed this vacation. The welcoming guides smiled at us nonstop, and the children smiled right along with them."

Betty Fadlon of Ashkelon said she and her family often spent time in nature and loved to travel around the country. "Joint family fun times are the most important and enjoyable activities," she said. "Ashkelon is in the line of fire sometimes, so this is a wonderful opportunity for us to get away and just relax a bit. The wonderful free activities that the KKL-JNF holds allow anyone who wants to join in to come."

"Our goal is to create a bond between the general public and the forest," explained Avinoam Nissim, the training coordinator at the Yatir Field and Forest Center. "Planting a forest in the desert, against all odds, represents the values of initiative and determination, and these are also the values that Chanukah symbolizes."

The Yatir Forest, spread over 12,300 acres, is the largest planted forest in Israel. In addition to Pine and Cypress trees, it is home to many other species of trees, such as Eucalyptus, Pistacia, Tamarisk and Carob trees. Within this forest landscape, the KKL-JNF has built hiking trails and picnic areas and refurbished archeological sites. In the heart of the forest lies the Yatir Field and Forest Center, which provides accommodation for various groups and hosts hiking, camping, OTD and field activities.

"Chanukah is a festival celebrating the triumph of the spirit," noted Simon Elbaz, KKL-JNF's Director of Field and Forest Centers. "The KKL-JNF is inspiring a new spirit of pro-activity for the benefit of residents of the periphery."

Tali Velkin, aged 10 from Shani Livne, was thrilled that Chanukah vacation had begun. "It's fun to go on vacation and go with my family to do all kinds of special things," said the girl.

Naama Liebman of Yoshavia, aged 12, especially enjoyed the sufganiot donuts workshop. She decorated her donut with chocolate and vanilla cream, and then took a big bite. "What fun to come to the forest and make donuts here with the whole family," she said.

The activities were led by KKL-JNF instructors including national service volunteers Avia Shmela and Ora Wetzler, who dressed up as a pair of Greek soldiers and walked among the jubilant kids. "It's important to get the kids out of the house and away from the screens, and nurture their bonds with nature and their heritage," said Avia. "Here in the forest, they learn things that they can't learn in any classroom," added her friend Ora.

Eight-year-old Or Spilter and his 9-year-old best friend Itamar Peleg, both from Or Haner, enjoyed their time together at the activity stations. "It was really nice to make donuts, menorahs and dreidels," said Itamar. "It's fun to go out in nature when we're on vacation and do things together," Or added.

As the participants prepared to make their way home after a day of singing, dancing, playing and creating, Hannah Shenhav of Sderot summed it up with a broad smile on her face: "We enjoyed a perfectly perfect day!"