New Olim Celebrate Being Free People in their Own Land

Monday, April 05, 2021 11:00 AM

Immigrant families celebrate Passover - the festival of freedom and of spring - at KKL-JNF's Field and Forest Center in the Jerusalem area of Nes Harim.

(Photo: Yoav Devir, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
Over Pesach, new immigrants to Israel (olim) came from all around the country to KKL-JNF’s Nes Harim Field and Forest Center to take part in special fun days, which included activities, excursions, and arts and crafts. While their children were busy with organized games and activities, the parents were free to enjoy the scenery and the wonderful spring weather.

An especially moving element was the participation of a group of Bnei Menashe (“Children of Manasseh”) immigrants who had arrived from India less than three months previously and were now visiting Jerusalem and its environs for the first time.
“When you travel round Israel, you can really feel the history,” said 24-year-old Yonathan Ralte, who today lives in Nof HaGalil in northern Israel. He and his family had waited ten years for the opportunity to immigrate to Israel. “Israel is so beautiful, and it’s only here that we feel at home,” he explained. “This year, when we said on Seder night ‘Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt,’ the words had an especially profound significance.”

A group of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union were likewise celebrating their first Passover in Israel, and had participated in a Seder at Nes Harim, where they stayed overnight, sleeping in the cabins provided for guests.
Participants Natalia Sandro and Gogitza Zadorov had emigrated from Georgia about six months ago.
“Celebrating Passover in Israel for the first time and holding the Seder together at Nes Harim is a really special feeling. I’m so excited,” said Natalia. “Israel really is a wonderful place. I love the people, the scenery and, of course, the weather.”
“The day I arrived in Israel I felt as if I had come back home,” added Gogitza.

“It’s fun to play in the forest,” said the energetic five-year-old Yoni Sobel, who came here from Brazil with his family four years ago and now lives in Modiin. “I like to climb and play,” he declared, as he bounded up a ropes structure. His father Motti added: “We’ve got such a beautiful country and it’s wonderful to get out and enjoy ourselves in natural surroundings, get to know new places and make new friends.”

This was precisely KKL-JNF’s objective in organizing the event, as Avi Moussan of the organization’s Education and Community Division explained: “Our goal is to put the olim in touch with the Israeli experience, with its springtime atmosphere and wildflowers, and, most of all, to give the children and the whole family a chance to have some fun. It’s wonderful to see how they’re all enjoying it.”

And, indeed, there were plenty of experiences on offer for the participants: handicraft workshops with natural materials, outdoor climbing and jumping facilities, a drumming circle, theatrical activities with Passover story characters, outdoor cooking, games and quizzes with KKL-JNF guides, and tours of the surrounding countryside.

A medley of different languages reverberated throughout the Nes Harim woodland, as olim from Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine, France, England, Australia, the USA and India all came to celebrate the Festival of Freedom, an "ingathering of exiles" in the truest sense of the word. At first, each immigrant group kept to themselves, but as time went on, their children could be seen playing together, while the teenagers hung out and got chatting with one another. Such encounters between diverse groups, all learning to live together in this land, are arguably the true essence of Israel.

Among the participants was eight-year-old Yamit Pichersky from Lod in central Israel, whose family had immigrated to Israel from Ukraine. “It’s fun that during the chag [holiday] there are all kinds of activities we can do together,” she observed.

Elena Shilov immigrated from Russia two years ago, and since then she has been exploring Israel in depth, together with her husband and their children. Sometimes they take part in trips organized by KKL-JNF. “That’s the best way to see the country and connect with it,” she said.

The Nes Harim campus is one of five Field and Forest Centers operated by KKL-JNF throughout Israel, from the Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south. Each center offers group activities related to ODT, nature, Israeli heritage and the environment, using a range of indoor and outdoor facilities.
After a long period during which Covid-19 restrictions had rendered communal activities almost impossible, now, finally, people can get together again in the forest – taking good care, of course, to observe Health Ministry directives.

“We were delighted to open our centers to these immigrant families and hold a wide range of values-oriented activities that are educational, yet fun to take part in,” said Nes Harim Field and Forest Center Director Gili Maimon.

The Harkham family of Yad Binyamin, who immigrated to Israel from far-away Australia, also came to the forest for some family fun. “There’s a wonderful energy here,” said mother Avital Harkham. “It’s nice to get away from urban chaos for a bit and enjoy the beauties of nature.” Their six-year-old son Hillel summed up the day perfectly: “It was great to get out with the family and do fun stuff over the holiday.”