KKL-JNF Denmark 2014 Staff Mission Visits the Negev

Monday, March 10, 2014 1:54 PM

A day with the 2014 KKL-JNF Denmark Staff Mission in the Negev.

On March 5, the 2014 KKL-JNF Denmark Staff Mission spent a day touring the Negev. The tour is part of the mission's six-day trip in Israel, during which the group of nine have been visiting KKL-JNF projects over the length and breadth of the country.

Group photo at the Anim ruins in Yatir Forest- L-R: David Blum Bøggild, Yishai Avital,
Silje Garnås Kristiansen, Bente Ilsøe, Eva Blum Bøggild, Yehudit Perl-Strasser (above),
Linda Hertzberg, Ulf Goldschmidt Haxen, Gösta Nachman, Tove Marianne Hesse, Vilhelm Grønbæk.
Photo: Tania Susskind


View of Yatir Forest from the Yatir Foresters House. Photo: Tania Susskind

Remains of the ancient Anim Synagogue in Yatir. Photo: Tania Susskind

Yatir Forest
in the northwestern Negev is always a perfect place to begin a tour of Israel's south and to see KKL-JNF's many and diverse projects in this challenging region. And indeed, this is where the 2014 KKL-JNF Denmark Staff Mission arrived on Wednesday, March 5 for the fourth day of their six-day visit to Israel, during which they toured the length and breadth of the country, seeing KKL-JNF projects and hearing about their importance for Israel's environment and for the quality of life of its citizens.

The group of nine, which was accompanied by KKL-JNF guide Yishai Avital, was greeted at the Yatir Forest Foresters House by Yehudit Perl-Strasser of KKL-JNF's European Desk. Yatir is Israel's largest planted forest, with over four million trees. It is world famous because it proves that trees can thrive in a semi-arid region, which has a very significant effect on global warming. It is, however, important to realize that the desert here is manmade, due to overgrazing and the indiscriminate felling of trees. KKL-JNF is not turning the desert into something else, but rather restoring land that underwent processes of degradation and desertification. Accordingly, present-day KKL-JNF policy is to plant trees indigenous to the region that will eventually take the place of the conifers that were first planted here.

Yatir Forest is also about history, and the group visited the remnants of the Anim synagogue, which was established in the fourth century and existed until the eighth century CE. At the top of the ruin are the remnants of a square structure whose walls are approximately five meters thick. The structure served as a fortress during the period of the kings of Judah.

David Blum Bøggild and Vilhelm Grønbæk, aged 14, the youngest mission members. Photo: Tania Susskind

Eva Blum Bøggild
, director of KKL-JNF in Copenhagen, is a journalist by profession who often writes about KKL-JNF for the local Jewish magazine. "We've been making entries into an on-line diary every night, describing where we've been. Before this trip, I found it very difficult to write about places that I hadn't seen. Now that I've actually been to the sites, I have a much better understanding of what I previously only knew about in theory."

Eva's 14 year old son David and his friend Vilhelm Grønbæk, also 14, were enjoying Israel together with the adults. David said that he had been to Israel in the past, "but I wanted to show the country to Wilhelm."
"It's great here," Wilhelm said. "I love the warm weather and the people are nice, even though I feel like I'm the only person with natural blond hair."

Ambassadors Forest
The next stop was Ambassadors Forest north of Beersheba, where the group met KKL-JNF Southern Region Deputy Director Itzik Moshe, a world-famous expert on desert afforestation. On the way to the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) station in the forest, which is funded by friends of KKL-JNF from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Itzik showed the group how KKL-JNF has adapted ancient Nabatean methods of trapping water from the scant rainfall in the region and using it to grow a variety of trees in what are known as limans. At the research station, the group saw that even in a dry winter such as this one, the soil in the limans remains moist.

After seeing the Bedouin shepherds grazing their flocks in Ambassador Forest, Tove Marianne Hesse, a KKL-JNF Denmark board member, said that this should be published in the Danish media. "Unlike everything else you hear so often, this is something positive. No one in Denmark knows that KKL-JNF reaches agreements with the Bedouins and that there is a mutually beneficial relationship."

Western Negev R&D Station

Irises being cultivated at the Western Negev R&D greenhouse. Photo: Tania Susskind

Bente Ilsøe. Photo: Tania Susskind

The Besor Western Negev Research and Development station is located 3 kilometers east of the Gaza border. Liana Ganot, who works at the R&D, explained that the station deals with finding immediate solutions for problems that are commonplace in the local farms as well as long term development of advanced production technologies and the introduction of new products. KKL-JNF, with the help of its friends worldwide, finances close to 50% of the cost of Israel’s R&D stations. After a short presentation, Liana took showed the group how cutting-edge agricultural research was making it possible to grow top quality zucchinis, flowers, tomatoes, peppers and hanging strawberries in the desert, incorporating a new method to measure sweetness.

Bente Ilsøe, also a KKL-JNF board member, is involved in promoting joint international resource development projects. "I'm very impressed by what I've seen at the R&D station and by what KKL-JNF has accomplished in general. There are so many ways that Israel and Denmark can cooperate. Even though we have a more northern climate, Denmark is interested in the effects of climate change and in forestry. My father helped the Jewish community escape to Sweden in 1943, so I've always felt very connected to Israel, and I look for ways to engage in anything that promotes a positive relationship between Israel and Denmark."
Be'erot Yitzhak Heritage Site

Be'erot Yitzhak water tower. Photo: Tania Susskind

Ulf Goldschmidt Haxen shows a photo of a water carrier in Be'erot Yitzchak, before the building of the water tower. Photo: Tania Susskind

As the sun set, the group made its way to the site of the Be'erot Yitzhak water tower, which was recently restored with the help of KKL-JNF, JNF UK and other organizations. There they heard the story of how a small number of Jewish farmers prevented the Egyptian army from conquering this strategic point during the 1948 War of Independence, and the many casualties they suffered as a result. They also visited the newly constructed Be'erot Yitzhak educational center, where they saw a Blue Box preserved from the early days of the kibbutz. The area around the center needs to be developed, and the local guide said that they have approached KKL-JNF with a request for help with funding this project.

Ulf Goldschmidt Haxen has been the president of KKL-JNF Denmark for the past seven years and a member of the board since 1995. ""My parents were ardent Zionists, they spent time in Israel during the formative years of 1948-1949. Of course I heard a lot about Israel as a youngster, so it was only natural that I also spent a year here as a national service volunteer in 1953. Last year, I celebrated the 60th anniversary of my stay here. 2013 was also the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Danish Jewry, in honor of which we inaugurated a forest grove.
"For me, supporting KKL-JNF is a natural way to express my connection to the Jewish state. This trip has shown us how our commitment is translated into reality."