Shokeda Community Forest in the Western Negev - Connecting Everything Together

Monday, October 20, 2014 1:30 PM

In a festive ceremony that took place during Sukkot, KKL-JNF dedicated Shokeda Community Forest in the Western Negev.

In a festive ceremony that took place during Sukkot, KKL-JNF dedicated Shokeda Community Forest in the Western Negev. After many days in bomb shelters during Operation Protective Edge, the residents of the near communities were very happy to enjoy the green forest landscape. Forest projects include the Neighbors Path, anemones recreation area, cycling paths, an amphitheater and an Ottoman water cistern and pool.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler. Photo: Tania Susskind

"KKL-JNF stood by the residents of the Western Negev during Operations Cast Lead and Protective Edge, and I can assure you that we will continue to work together with you to help make this region even more beautiful and prosperous." KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler was speaking on Monday, October 13, at the dedication ceremony of Shokeda Community Forest in the Western Negev where he was accompanied by KKL-JNF Southern Region Director Ami Uliel and Director of KKL-JNF southern forest and community department Hannah Bechar.

"The 4,000 dunams of Shokeda Forest were first planted by KKL-JNF in 1953," Stenzler continued, "and at the time, we didn’t realize that it would become a major attraction in the winter, when it is covered by a dazzling red carpet of anemones. As a community forest, its importance is its proximity to residential areas. Over 100 local residents came to the first forest planning meeting, which is an all-time KKL-JNF record. It demonstrates just how connected you are to the land."

Captain Yonatan Netanel's father. Photo: Tania Susskind

As KKL-JNF Western Negev Forest and Community Coordinator Galit Buzaglo explained, the impetus for transforming Shokeda into a community forest came as a result of a request to commemorate the memory of Captain Yonatan Netanel, who fell in Operation Cast Lead. Forest projects include the Neighbors Path, which connects all the nearby communities to the anemones recreation area, cycling paths, an amphitheater that will eventually seat 250 people, and the restoration of an Ottoman water cistern and pool. As Captain Netanel's father said, "the forest will connect everyone together, whether they are religious or secular."

"Kfar Maimon, Shokeda and Alumim, the communities that border on the forest, have suffered constant bombardment from Gaza over the past years," Galit said. "From the time the Color Red alarm is heard here, there are only 15 seconds to find shelter. However, the people of this region are strong and have a great love of the land of Israel. KKL-JNF and the Sdot Negev Regional Council have shared values, which make us natural partners for this project. Today's ceremony showcases what we have accomplished over the last half year together with the local residents."

Brigadier General Etai Weirob. Photo: Tania Susskind

Speaking at the ceremony, Brigadier General Etai Weirob, commander of the IDF Gaza Division, said that "KKL-JNF forests symbolize life and continuity, as does the water cistern. During the war, thousands of soldiers camped out on the field right in back of us, ready to enter Gaza in order to eliminate the threat against Israel's citizens. It is now up to us to take advantage of the quiet that Operation Protective Edge has given us, to build this region and to make it prosper. The resilience of our youth and rural communities, as evidenced here today, is what makes us strong."

Tamir Eidan, head of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, welcomed everyone "to the first community forest in the Sdot Negev region. What's happening here is simply amazing. I didn't thing it would be realized so quickly, and that wouldn't have been the case if not for KKL-JNF. We are all like one big family, and together that we are creating a place that people will come to from all over Israel. Both during times of peace and times of war, we feel embraced by KKL-JNF."
Ohad Hadad, a close friend of Captain Netanel, was one of the people involved in planning and creating the community forest: "The desire to deepen our foothold in the land of Israel was what inspired us to promote this project. The bike path is technically called a 'single', but we call it the Neighbors Path, because the goal of the path we take is to connect between us. For me, this was the first time I worked with KKL-JNF, and I met some incredible people from the Southern Region who worked day and night to make this dream a reality."

Tamir Eidan, head of the Sdot Negev Regional Council. Photo: Tania Susskind

Before the ceremony began, activities for children that focused on the environment and KKL-JNF past and present were led by a new group of KKL-JNF National Service volunteers directed by Edna Feinstein. Guy, who immigrated from Australia, was busy with the children together with her friend Gili. "I decided to do a year of national service before serving in the army," Guy said, "and KKL-JNF was the perfect choice for me, since I love both nature and Israel."

The event concluded with a festive concert by popular Israeli singer Eidan Haviv and his band, to the delight of everyone present. Ayelet, who lives in Kibbutz Alumim, came with her three children, Lavi (5), Nadav (3) and Ohad (1). "We saw a great play and Lavi and Nadav made flags for Simhat Torah from recycled materials," Ayelet said. "There are usually not so many activities in nature in our region, so we're very grateful to KKL-JNF for organizing this event, especially after having to stay close to home because of the war. We can now only hope for peace and quiet so we'll be able to enjoy this wonderful site."

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