Celebrating Hadassah’s Centenary with a Tour of KKL-JNF Projects in the Negev

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 3:39 PM

Two hundred of Hadassah’s major donors participate in a tour of southern Israel to view KKL-JNF projects in the Negev. This month, Hadassah is celebrating its 100th birthday.

 


Miriam Aron (center) with Hadassah delegates at Beit Eshel. Photo: Yoav Devir

Around two hundred of Hadassah’s major donors participated in a tour of southern Israel to view KKL-JNF projects in the Negev. This excursion formed part of Hadassah’s annual conference, which was held in Jerusalem in celebration of the organization’s centenary. Among the projects on the itinerary were the Beersheba River Park, the historic Beit Eshel site and the Hatzor Air Force base.
 
Hadassah and KKL-JNF have been working together since 1926. “We have common aims and have promoted a whole range of initiatives together,” said Miriam Aron of Hadassah, whose job it is to deal with KKL-JNF projects.
As the Hadassah board has decided to give all the donations it receives for KKL-JNF over the next three years to the Beersheba River Park, touring the park was one of the main items on the delegation’s agenda.
 
“It was important to us that the delegation members see for themselves this park that will contribute so much to the economy of the region and provide a wonderful venue for both locals and visitors,” said Aron. “When we visit other countries people ask us ‘What have you been doing here?’ – but in Israel the question is always ‘What have we been doing here, and that’s what makes all the difference.”
 
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has over 300,000 volunteers, and it focuses primarily on providing support for medical, social and educational projects in Israel, the US and throughout the world.

A Green Corner on the Airbase
 


Green corner at Hatzor Airbase, with dedication sign to Alon Gigi OBM. Photo: Yoav Devir

Excitement was in the air as the group set out on their tour of the south and met with Israeli Air Force pilots at Hatzor Airbase, where KKL-JNF has established and now maintains a garden with a visitors’ corner where the servicemen can spend time with their families when they come to visit. The shady green area that surrounds the squadron’s operational facilities is landscaped, and equipped with picnic tables and a picturesque balcony.
 
The delegation members enjoyed sitting in the shady green corner dedicated to the memory of the late Alon Gigi, who was killed in a road accident in 2011 at the age of nineteen; he was the son of Danny Gigi, Director of KKL-JNF’s Southern Negev and Arava Region.
 
Efrat Sinai, Director of KKL-JNF’s Tourism Department, told those present about the special relationship between KKL-JNF and the Israel Defense Forces. “We don’t build planes or missiles, but we can help by giving soldiers and their families a place to spend time together, and we can provide military bases with a pleasant green ambiance,” she said.
 


Beit Eshel. Photo: Yoav Devir

Fighter pilot Major G. expressed his profound appreciation of KKL-JNF’s attentive care of the Hatzor base and told the guests about the Israeli Air Force and the variety of operations it carries out in defense of the country’s airspace. “I love flying,” he said. “It’s an experience that can’t be put into words.”
 
But the visitors did more than just listen to explanations: after donning flying suits they got into a genuine fighter plane, and before he said goodbye to them, Major G. told them, with a broad grin: “And if anyone wants to join the Israeli Air Force, you’ll find the relevant forms on the table on your way out….”
 
Delegation member Benita Ross, from Boston, has visited numerous KKL-JNF projects in the past. “Each time I’m amazed anew at the things that happen in Israel,” she said. “We try to escape the tourist atmosphere and learn about what’s happening in the country so that we can get more involved.”  

Beersheba River Park – Creating a Green Future in the Negev
 


Walking up to Beit Eshel. Photo: Yoav Devir

From the airbase, the delegation members went to Beersheba River Park, which is located in what was once the city’s neglected and polluted backyard, and which is now a thriving tourist attraction. A number of different organizations have worked together over the past few years to establish the park, including KKL-JNF, with the help of its Friends in the USA, Canada, Germany and Australia; the Ministry for Negev and Galilee Development; Beersheba Municipality; the Beersheba River Rehabilitation and Development Authority and the Shikma-Besor Drainage Authority.
 
The tour of the park began with lunch at the historic Beit Eshel site, where a Jewish agricultural settlement was founded in 1943 to determine whether or not it was possible to survive and make a living from farming in the desert. In Israel’s War of Independence, this handful of settlers, together with members of the Palmach, engaged in fierce battles with the Egyptian army.
 
Anat Gold, a planner with KKL-JNF’s Southern Region, pointed out that the Beit Eshel site documents the story of Jewish settlement, agricultural development and life in the shadow of war in the Negev. “This is more than just a museum. It’s a living, active site,” she said.
 
The site is located on the eastern side of Beersheba River Park, and, as it generates a lot of interest, it is destined in the future to become the park’s main entrance. Restoration and rehabilitation work at this historic location has been carried out thanks to donations from Friends of KKL-JNF in Canada and Germany.
 


L-R: Anat Gold and Itai Freiman with Hadassah delegates. Photo: Yoav Devir

Beersheba River Park is one of KKL-JNF’s most important projects in the Negev, combining as it does historical sites with recreational areas that will bring change to the lives of the local people. This urban park extends over an area of around 5,300 dunam (approx 1,325 acres) and stretches for eight kilometers along the banks of the Beersheba River. It comprises open spaces, picnic areas, promenades and historical sites that tell the story of Beersheba throughout the ages. The main promenade covers an area of some 250 dunam (approx 62.5 acres) and includes lawns, playgrounds and copses of trees. It also serves as a venue for a variety of performances and cultural events.
 
“Thanks to the efforts of KKL-JNF’s Friends throughout the world, the Negev is moving forward,” Beersheba River Park Director Itai Freiman told us. “This project has already begun to contribute to the economic development of the city and the entire surrounding region.”
 
Freiman showed the delegation members the many plans for the continued development of the park: an amphitheater with the capacity to seat 12,000 people, an artificial lake, a restaurant and coffee shops, footpaths and cycle paths and woodlands with special areas for picnics.
 


Pipes Bridge over a section of the Beersheba River Park. Photo: Yoav Devir

“This is more than a project – it’s a vision!” he exclaimed. “For twelve years now we’ve been working to turn this area, which was once neglected and polluted, into a major urban park. This is how we improve the quality of life for residents of the Negev!”
 
The park is connected to the Beersheba neighborhoods by the Pipe Bridge, which serves pedestrians and cyclists alike. The delegation members were most impressed by this unusual bridge, which was funded by donations from KKL-JNF’s Friends in the USA, and which takes its name from its construction over pipes belonging to Mekorot, Israel’s national water company.
 
The site has now become a tourist attraction: families go to see it and couples get their wedding photos taken there. Even the price of apartments in the neighborhood overlooking the bridge has risen as a result of this additional example of KKL-JNF’s ability to create economic growth by turning a junkyard and rubbish dump into a desirable residential area.

Water for Agriculture and Life in the Desert
   


The Schoenfeld family. Photo: Yoav Devir

Beersheba River Park is irrigated entirely by treated wastewater. On their way back to Jerusalem, the delegation members passed close to the Aryeh Pools and heard how the water reservoirs established by KKL-JNF in the Negev are painting the desert green and enabling local residents to make a living from agriculture. This reclaimed water has made once-abandoned fields fertile once more, and the switch to irrigation with treated wastewater instead of costly drinking water has rendered agriculture more profitable than before. The reservoirs also make an important contribution to the environment by preventing rivers and groundwater from being polluted by effluent.
 
The Aryeh Pools were established with the help of Friends of JNF Australia. Each of the three pools has a capacity of 50,000 cubic meters: one receives the wastewater, the second purifies it and the third is kept in reserve in case of overflow. When the water arrives from the Beersheba purification plant, it has already undergone secondary treatment, and at the Aryeh Pools it is further purified until it reaches the tertiary stage, at which it is almost clean enough to drink. Water of this quality can be used to irrigate gardens and crops of all kinds.
 
Most members of the delegation had already visited Israel on numerous occasions, but for 24-year-old Denise Schoenfeld of Mexico, this was her first time. “The country’s amazingly beautiful.” she said. “It’s very important that the younger generation continue to be involved in what’s going on in Israel.”
 


The Mizrahi family. Photo: Yoav Devir

She had come on the trip together with her whole family. Her father Salmon Nizri Schoenfeld told us that he takes care to follow KKL-JNF activities in Mexico, and was glad of the opportunity of observe the organization’s projects in Israel at first hand. He promised that on his return home he would update members of the local Jewish community on what he had seen.
 
The youngest participant in the trip, two-year-old Alex Mizrahi from San Diego, was impossible to miss amongst the adult members of the delegation. During the more active parts of the excursion, he constantly ran around happily, whether on the lawns of Beersheba River Park or amongst the fighter aircraft at the Hatzor base. During the explanations, however, he tended to nod off – no doubt gathering his energies for the next burst of activity.
 
Little Alex was accompanied by fifteen family members – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. “For us, this is not just a study tour, it’s a family outing,” said his father Moshe Mizrahi. “We all love Israel very much and come here as often as we can. A trip with KKL-JNF is a fascinating way to see the country and get to know it from close up.”