Israel Stands with Australia in its Darkest Hour

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

On a chilly Monday night on February 3rd, close to 1,000 participants from all walks of life gathered together at the Tel Aviv Port to express their support for Australia, its people and its wildlife.

Australia is one of Israel’s closest supporters, and now, in the wake of the devastating bushfires ravaging the continent over the past few months, it was Israel’s turn to stand by Australia in its time of need.  On a chilly Monday night on February 3rd, close to 1,000 participants from all walks of life gathered together at the Tel Aviv Port to express their support for Australia, its people and its wildlife.

The solidarity event included musical and comic performances, a sing-along with the popular Koolulum group and speeches from Israeli and Australian dignitaries. All proceeds from the event will be added to funds raised by JNF in Australia and will go to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund. The festive evening was organized in collaboration with a number of organizations, including JNF Australia, KKL-JNF Israel, the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, the Zionist Federation of Australia in Israel, Tel Aviv University, and a number of private companies, who donated to the event.

Well-known Israeli artists performed at the event, including singers Hagit Yaso and Savannah Zwi, trumpeter Eric Davidov and satirist Jeremy Bracha. The performers generously donated their efforts in support of the cause.

“Treating forests is one of KKL-JNF’s core activities, and we feel a kinship with Australia in this difficult time,” said Yair Lotstein, KKL-JNF’s Vice Chairman, at the event. “The Australian Jewish community is known for its sympathetic attitude towards Israel, and it is an honor for us to assist JNF Australia in this important goal.”

Hundreds of severe fires have erupted in Australia since September 2019 and have caused unprecedented damage. About 190 thousand square kilometers have gone up in flames, an area nine times the size of the state of Israel. Thirty-four people have died in the fires and according to estimates by experts about a billion animals have perished. Six thousand buildings have been damaged, 2,500 families have lost their homes and about 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate their residences. The smoke spread out to a distance of 2,000 kilometers, causing serious air pollution throughout the country. About 400 megatons of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere.
Participating in the event were many representatives from municipalities and organizations in northern and southern Israel that have forged a strong connection with JNF Australia and KKL-JNF. As Gideon Shavit and Zeev Kedem - JNF Australia’s representatives in Israel - called out the name of each organization, its representatives in the audience cheered in response.

Eran Doron, Mayor of the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council, gave thanks on behalf of all those who enjoy a close partnership with JNF Australia and KKL-JNF: “The Jewish community in Australia helps to create the wonderful reality in Israel in places where we need it most, and today we have an opportunity to say thank you. Your pain is our pain, and the least we can do is to stand by your side.”

Major General (Ret) Ido Nehushtan, Chairman of the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce, stated that a time of need is when true friends are tested. “From here we’re sending Australia a huge hug, and know that you are not alone,” he said.

His Excellency Chris Cannan, Australia’s ambassador to Israel, who honored the event with his attendance, thanked those present on behalf of the Australian people and government. “People unite when facing difficulties,” he said. “This is a tough time for my country, and there is no better way of expressing support than through music, joy, and being together.”

Dr. Doron Markel, KKL-JNF’s chief scientist, stated that 2019 was the warmest and driest year on record in Australia. “The world already understands that if we do not act with determination, the climate crisis could endanger the earth’s population,” he said.

Prof. Tamar Dayan of Tel Aviv University’s Zoology department gave a presentation on the catastrophic impact of the fires, stating that the fires were consuming 100 million years of evolution. “What can we tell our children if in our generation we were to lose such a rich and wondrous world, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else?” she asked in conclusion.

Over the course of the evening, a solidarity fair at the back of the hall offered beer, snacks and donated Australian products for sale to raise funds for the WWF.

The evening ended with a stirring mass performance led by the social musical initiative Koolulam, which works to bring diverse people together through collective singing.  After the band members rehearsed the song One Love by Bob Marley with the audience, everyone sang it together, bringing the evening to a rousing conclusion.