Community Parks Breathe New Life into Remote Northern Israeli Villages

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Around 100 KKL-JNF Community Parks are planned for kibbutzim, moshavim, towns and villages that encompass Israel’s Jewish, Arab, Druze, Circassian and Bedouin populations.

As part of its Community Parks program in Israel’s social and geographical periphery, KKL-JNF has recently completed four community parks in the Golan Heights with the support of KKL Italy.  We paid the communities a visit to see how they were enjoying their new parks.
KKL-JNF Community Parks’ - an initiative launched by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund in Israel’s outlying regions - has borne fruit in the Golan Heights, thanks to a helping hand from its Friends in Italy.  The program, geared to communities located in Israel’s social and geographical periphery, transforms neglected public spaces into attractive and accessible green parks.

While isolated communities may not have much to offer their residents in terms of recreation, what they do have in abundance are open spaces and a close-knit social fabric. The Community Parks initiative utilizes these strengths to help remedy the recreational disadvantage. Around 100 KKL-JNF Community Parks are planned for kibbutzim, moshavim, towns and villages that encompass Israel’s Jewish, Arab, Druze, Circassian and Bedouin populations. The parks, currently in various stages of development, will all be accessible to people with disabilities. In communities where they are already complete, the parks have become the focal point for communal life; places to meet, play, and hold events.

As the local children have fun climbing, swinging and sliding on the playground equipment, their parents sit on the benches and chat, taking pleasure in watching their children play in the open air with their friends.

Along with improving quality of life, the attractive, well-maintained parks are a drawcard for young families seeking to make their home in the Negev or Galilee, strengthening these regions as a whole - one of the most critical goals of KKL-JNF.

The newly completed parks in the Golan Heights, created with the support of Friends of KKL Italy, are located in four communities in the Golan Heights: Neve Ativ, Keshet, Ma’ale Gamla and Ramot.

Gilad Diamant, who oversaw the project on behalf of the Golan Regional Council, explained that the parks were planned in cooperation with the local communities. “We met with the local residents and listened to their needs. At the end of the day, the parks are meant to serve them”, he emphasized.
 “All KKL-JNF Community Parks include disabled parking, accessible entrances, [perimeter] markers around swings for the visually impaired, a water fountain adapted for wheelchair users, accessible benches with an armrest [on one side only], and picnic tables adapted for wheelchair use”.

A Visit to the New Parks and the People who Use them

Neve Ativ: “Where dreams come true”

Moshav Neve Ativ is located at the foot of Mt. Hermon - a few kilometers from the border with Syria and Lebanon, and 1,000 km above sea level. The community, founded at the end of the 1960’s, moved to its current location at the beginning of the 1970’s. As the years passed, the population aged and the number of children decreased. The playground and park, eventually abandoned, stood neglected.

“The children that grew up here came back to live here and raise their families. We are absorbing new families”, says Mimi Goldstein, the community manager at Neve Ativ. “Today we are 57 families, over 30 children, and the numbers grow each year. Before the KKL-JNF Community Park, we didn’t have modern facilities that were appropriate for children. This is, of course, a vital need for a growing community”.

The new park is located in the new neighborhood of Neve Ativ. “It’s not just a playground for kids, but a meeting place for the community,” says Goldstein. “Parents come with their kids, youth meet here. We consider Neve Ativ a place where dreams come true and this is a perfect example”.

The residents were so enthusiastic about their new park that the moment it opened, they quickly added landscaping around the beautiful garden.

Keshet: “Everyone knows each other”

Keshet is a Religious-Zionist community in the heart of the Golan Heights. Founded in the wake of the Yom Kippur War (1973), it was built on a site where the Syrian forces had launched an attack, as a powerful Zionist value statement. Today 115 families live here and there are over 300 children.

A large group of children were playing in the KKL-JNF Community Park when we visited. They climbed, slid and swung on the playground equipment and exercised on the fitness facilities. One of the children, 10 year-old Shaked, said, “It’s fun to live in a small place like Keshet, where everyone knows everyone else. I love coming to the playground with my friends”.

Her younger sister, 8 year-old Segev, chimed in: “It’s good to have a place to play. I especially like the swing and the slide”.

The girls had come with their mother, Talya Naeh Azoulay, who was born and raised in Keshet and has lived here her entire life. “We have a warm, close-knit community where the children are connected to values, their roots and the land. Community, Torah and agriculture are the values that we live by”, she said.

As to the new park, she observed that the gatherings here have “transformed Keshet from a bedroom community, to a living community where we meet each other”.

In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, community parks have become more important than ever, as indoor entertainment venues close and outdoor recreation is safer for adults and children alike. “It’s good to have a place to meet outside with friends. That way our parents are less worried”, says Shalev Polcheck, age 9. “We come to the park a lot and I particularly like the swings”.

Ma’ale Gamla:”A magical place for kids”

Moshav Ma’ale Gamla was founded in 1976 on the northeastern slopes of the Golan Heights, and boasts one the most beautiful views of the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] and the Golan’s mountains. The moshav is home to 169 families, with around 200 children.

“My parents founded this community and it has been my home for my entire life”, says Naama Zohar. “It’s a magical place to raise children”.

In the past, the playground was just an old wooden structure with no shade, landscaping or lighting. KKL-JNF renovated the place, added new play equipment, shaded sitting corners, synthetic grass and lighting. The local kindergartens are right next door, so that toddlers and their parents can come straight from the kindergarten to the park.

Zohar told us that she comes here often with her three children. “It’s not just a playground for young children. Our youth movement also holds its activities here”, she added.

Maya Kotlarov, age 14, arrived with two of her friends. “Our group meets up here, sitting on the swings or on the bench, playing and chatting. It’s great that there is lighting, that way we can enjoy it here in the evenings, when the younger children go home”.

Ramot: Daytime shade, lighting in the evenings

Two kilometers north of the eastern side of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) is where you will find Moshav Ramot, est. 1969, overlooking the Kinneret and Mount Arbel. Its population includes 180 families and around 200 children.

The sunset paints the vista from the new community park in vibrant colors. A group of children meets in the park, under the lamps. Tomorrow they will not be going to school due to COVID-19, so their parents have allowed them to stay out a bit later. KKL-JNF affixed lights to the poles that support the shading net. It’s much prettier that way, and also more cost effective. “This park is close to our houses, it has fun facilities and also shade”, says one of the children. “We meet here every evening, play, talk and have fun”.

Another boy recalls what was here previously: “It was an old, neglected playground. Not nearly as good as what we have now. Today we have good facilities, shade during the day and light during the evening. We really enjoy our new park”.