Sunday, June 03, 2012
A group of 20 Friends of KKL-JNF arrived from Montreal, Canada, to take part in Israel’s first dragon-boat race.
Planting a tree. Photo: Yoav Devir.
A group of 20 Friends of KKL-JNF arrived from Montreal, Canada, to take part in Israel’s first dragon-boat race. Dragon boats, which originated in China, are enormous, and each boat is rowed by twenty people. Forty teams took part in the event, 20 from Canada and 20 from Israel.
The Israeli dragon-boat festival was initiated by volunteers from Ottawa who were looking for ways to boost tourism and strengthen ties between Canada and Israel. To this end, Alice Lehrer formed The Blazing Paddles, a group of Friends of KKL-JNF, who took part in the race.
“When I heard about dragon-boat festivals, I thought at once that it was a marvelous idea, even though I’d never rowed before in my life,” says Lehrer. “I don’t need excuses to come to Israel, but when I do have a good excuse, I take advantage of it at once!”
When asked how her family and friends had reacted to her initiative, she responds: “Some thought I’d taken leave of my senses.” But she refused to be discouraged and worked for a year to get the group together. She assembled a diverse party of participants: Jews and non-Jews in a variety of professions (doctors, lawyers, teachers); regular visitors to Israel, and others for whom this was their first visit; people in their 30s, and others over 80 years old. Most of the team members were women, with just two men participating to preserve male honor.
"Getting in touch with KKL-JNF was the natural thing to do", says Lehrer, "as the organization is famous for its contribution to nature and water, and it provided the added benefit of enlisting sponsors for the participants". The money raised will be used for a KKL-JNF project in Israel, to be chosen by representatives of the team.
, Executive Director of JNF Canada’s
Eastern Region, regards the festival as a new way to attract people to Israel, promote water-related projects
and raise public awareness of the importance of the issue. “They explained that the idea behind the dragon boats is that it doesn’t matter how strong you are, because you can’t succeed unless everyone pulls together. That’s a message I very much identify with. Israel, too, draws it strength from cooperation between all the different sections of the Jewish People,” she said.
Group photo in Hula lake park. Photo: Yoav Devir.
The rowers, however, did not come to Israel only to compete: they arrived early and traveled around the country for a week before the race. They visited the Negev, Jerusalem and the north, got to know the country better and learned more about KKL-JNF’s nationwide range of initiatives.
A day of touring in northern Israel was devoted to visiting KKL-JNF projects. The delegation began the day at Lake Hula, one of Israel’s most popular tourist venues and one of the world’s foremost bird-watching sites. This artificial lake was created in the 1990s by flooding land that had been uncovered when the Hula Valley was drained. KKL-JNF led the initiative to create the lake, and today the organization is a partner in the management and development of the site and is involved in the educational and research activities underway there. All this has been made possible thanks to KKL-JNF’s Friends throughout the world, including Canada, Australia, the USA, Germany, South America, South Africa, Switzerland and Israel.
KKL-JNF’s Hula Region Director Efi Naim accompanied the guests on a tour of the park. The birds at the lake are now at the end of their migration, and are busy with courtship and nesting. Bee eaters, ducks with their ducklings, herons, storks, ibises, pratincoles and stilts are all to be seen.
The cranes that made Lake Hula famous are abroad at present, in Finland and northern Russia. But there’s no need to worry: in September or October they’ll be back in time for the holidays, and they’ll stay on for the whole winter, very much like those Americans and Canadians who migrate to Florida in winter time.
Tree planting blessing. Photo: Yoav Devir.
The visitors toured the site by golf buggy and bicycle, enjoying the magnificent natural sights. The antelopes were a source of great excitement, as they could be observed lying down in the water to cool off on this hot day.
At the bird-ringing station, the guests heard how vital the region is to bird migration routes, and were shown how birds are ringed so that they can be tracked for research, study and conservation purposes. They watched as their guide weighed, measured and ringed a cute little willow sparrow. “Now he’s got a social security number,” said their guide as he completed the process.
Before the sparrow was released back into the wild, the members of the group were asked each to make a wish, which the bird would carry skywards. “Don’t ask for anything too difficult, it’s only a little sparrow that weighs 28 grams,” joked one of the participants.
A representative of the group released the bird into the sky, and sparrow no. 54477 flew on his way very happily. “If those little birds can fly thousands of kilometers twice a year, then we can make it to Israel every so often for sure,” concluded Gail Grief, amid laughter.
For some members of the group, the Israeli race was their first encounter with dragon boats, except for the training they had undergone on a lake in Canada in preparation for the event. However, this wasn’t the case with 84-year-old Beryl Deitcher, who has been rowing for many years, though she has never done so in Israel before. “All my family and friends encouraged me to take part,” she said. “I’ve rowed in a variety of places as part of a cancer recovery group, but I’ve never rowed in Israel until now. We always win every race, because we’ve already won the main battle – the fight against cancer,” she explained.
From Lake Hula the group members continued on to Mahanayim Reservoir, where KKL-JNF Deputy Regional Manager Avraham Weiss spoke about the organization’s important water-related activities. KKL-JNF has established 225 reservoirs throughout Israel, which are used to store rainwater and treated sewage water, and which supply half of the country’s agricultural water requirements.
The visitors were impressed to hear that Israel is the world’s leading water recycler. Eighty per cent of the country’s treated sewage water is reused for agriculture, parks and gardens. In an arid country like Israel, water recycling is no less than a matter of survival.
Mahanayim has a dual-reservoir system with a capacity of 800,000 cubic meters that collects rainwater and effluent from Tzfat, Hatzor and Rosh Pina; the water is used to irrigate apple and pear orchards in Rosh Pina and Mahanayim. The area around the reservoir is surrounded by trees planted by schoolchildren and prisoners as part of a joint project.
Mahanayim reservoir. Photo: Yoav Devir
Lavi forest. Photo: Yoav Devir
The visitors concluded their day’s visit with a very happy event – planting trees in Lavi Forest, adjacent to the Golani Junction. The group planted cypresses and Judas trees, carefully covered the roots, and promised to come back to visit and see how the exposed ground is turning into beautiful green woodland.
It was an exciting day for all members of the group, but especially so for Shirley Kuchinsky. “My husband died a year ago,” she said. “We traveled all over the world together, but we never came to Israel, mainly because of my anxieties. When I see this wonderful country, I’m so sorry that we didn’t come here together. I want to thank KKL-JNF for enabling me, at least, to have the chance of coming here to visit.”
Group photo of rowing team all ready to race. Photo: JNF Canada