Nahal Connects to the Beating Heart of Israel with KKL-JNF

Sunday, April 06, 2014 4:51 PM

“Behind every path and stone there is a Jewish Zionist story."

Thousands of combat soldiers from the Nahal Brigade, bereaved families and youth groups from all over Israel walked for two days along the 940 kilometer Israel Trail, which crosses the length of the country from north to south. The walk began on April 2nd, 2014 with two ceremonies – one held at the Helicopter Memorial in Shaar Yishuv and the other at the Ink Flag in Eilat. The closing ceremony was held in Jerusalem.

“This expedition will give you an opportunity to get to know the beating heart of the State of Israel,” said KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler at the starting ceremony. “Along the way you’ll pass by a citrus grove, meet a farmer working in his field, rest in the shade of a tree and listen to the birds singing. This is our land.”

One of the two starting ceremonies for the walk was held adjacent to the memorial for the helicopter disaster at Shaar Yishuv on Israel’s northern border; the Brigade lost two combat teams in this terrible tragedy, which occurred in 1997. The second starting ceremony took place beside the Ink Flag in Eilat. At the same time, numerous other groups of Nahal soldiers departed from different points along the Israel Trail, which is almost 1,000 kilometers long and descends through the entire length of the country. The general public was invited to join in certain sections of the walk, including those in the British Park region.

IDF Nahal Brigade soldiers march with their commanders and Efi Stenzler.
Photo: Dror Artzi, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Set of Israel Trail marks on the way.
Photo: Yoav Devir

Commander of the Nahal Brigade Colonel Yehuda Fuchs emphasized the importance of this joint event held by the Nahal and KKL-JNF: “Walking the Israel Trail with thousands of combat soldiers, bereaved families and young people, visiting KKL-JNF sites and seeing Israel’s beautiful landscapes – all this is a dream come true. Without KKL-JNF we could have walked along the trail with ten soldiers; with them, we can walk it with thousands.”

The walk was designed to strengthen the soldiers’ connection with the country and imbue them with patriotic sentiments. Along the way a variety of activities were held, with an emphasis on army and nation.

Major Ido Saad. Photo: Yoav Devir

L-R: Major Idan Sussman with Ron Estrin. Photo: Yoav Devir

“Behind every path and stone there is a Jewish Zionist story. It’s important for the soldiers to connect with history so that they understand what the Land of Israel is and why it’s worth defending,” said Major Ido Saad, a Deputy Battalion Commander in the Nahal Brigade, who was marching with his soldiers from Latrun to the B'nai B'rith Cave in the Forest of the Martyrs. The route passed along the Burma Road, the Convoy Ridge and the Command Post Ridge in Yitzhak Rabin Park. The sites along the way, which were restored and developed by Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, provided an appropriate backdrop for the tales of the battles that had taken place in the Jerusalem region during Israel’s War of Independence.

Major Idan Sussman, who commands a Nahal company, explained that apart from providing an opportunity to instill values, the walk gave the soldiers a break from their combat activities and an opportunity to interact and enjoy themselves. “Normally when we walk, it’s on night marches, with heavy equipment on our backs. Today we’ve got the chance to enjoy a walk in a relaxed atmosphere. Spending time in natural surroundings with young people makes us better combat soldiers and gives us a better understanding of our task,” he said.

Increasing motivation among young people who will soon be enlisting in the IDF was another important aim of the walk. All along the way there were meetings with youngsters from nearby communities: races, excursions and weapons displays, together with stories of battle heritage.

Sixteen-year-old Ron Estrin of Jerusalem explained why he had decided to participate in the walk. “It’s important to me to be part of this experience together with soldiers and students from all over the country. Exploring the country, especially with the IDF, is something really special,” he said.

His eighteen-year-old friend Slavik Ravrak regarded the walk as an opportunity to learn a little more about service in the IDF. “We’ve learned about the army and met the soldiers who defend the State,” he said.

The walk’s various different routes passed through many of the sites that KKL-JNF maintains all over the country with the help of its Friends worldwide. From north to south these included Baram Forest, the Naftali Mountains Scenic Route, Meron Forest, Hula Lake Park, Switzerland Forest, Beit Keshet Forest, Mount Carmel Forest, Hadera Forest, Hadera River Park, Italy Park - Alexander River, Ben Shemen Forest, Elad Forest, the Forest of the Martyrs, Aminadav Forest, British Park, Lahav Forest, Yatir Forest, Timna Park and the Eilat Bird Watching Park.

Taking a break in one of KKL-JNF's picnic grounds.
Photo: Yoav Devir

At various points along the route, the young people met up with KKL-JNF instructors who described the organization’s activities in areas such as afforestation, settlement, agriculture, helping the water economy and combating desertification. The night was spent at KKL-JNF recreation areas, and the evening activities organized for the soldiers included quizzes on nature, geography and battle heritage.

As they walked along the northern section of the Israel Trail, many of the participating soldiers took the opportunity to send greetings to their families in Israel and abroad via live broadcast on the KKL-JNF website, giving rise to great happiness and emotion for all concerned.

“We’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to get in touch with the landscapes of the Land of Israel and meet some amazing young people. In the course of this walk we’ve all learned that where there’s a will there’s a way,” concluded Lt-Col Meni Librati, Commander of the Nahal Patrol Battalion.

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