The Forest that became a Friend

Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:52 PM

Shaalvim Community Forest dedicated in central Israel

On Friday, January 15, local residents and KKL-JNF officials dedicated the new Shaalvim community forest by planting trees and participating in forest-related activities.

Planting trees in the newly dedicated Shaalvim community forest. Photo: Tania Susskind

Shaalvim community coordinator Hadas Azulai receives a KKL-JNF certificate from KKL-JNF Central Region Director Haim Messing. Photo: Tania Susskind“The forest was a neglected area as far as the community was concerned. We were concerned about illegal grazing, fires and other hazards. We contacted KKL-JNF’s Mira Zer, and she suggested that we turn our local forest into a community forest. Since then, rather than being afraid of the forest, it has become our friend.” Hadas Azulai, Shaalvim community coordinator, described the process that led to the creation of the new Shaalvim community forest, which serves Kibbutz Shaalvim, Nof Ayalon, and other local communities.

“We’re now creating a path that will lead from the center of the kibbutz to the forest. KKL-JNF has been helpful in everything related to this project, including educating us about the forest, organizing events, funding and initiating forest-related community activities.”

KKL-JNF community forest director Moshe Shaller. Photo: Tania SusskindAccording to KKL-JNF Central Region Director Haim Messing, “community forests are based on three pillars – the community, local government and KKL-JNF. This particular forest was not well, and KKL-JNF invested a great deal in renewing it. Today we are planting 3,000 new broad-leafed trees here, and I think this is an excellent way to prepare for Tu Bishvat. Chag Sameach!”

Moshe Shaller, KKL-JNF Director of Community Forests said that KKL-JNF’s community forests are a win-win situation for the forests and the local communities. “The forests get special attention while the locals gain a green area for leisure activities and outdoor recreation. This particular forest has a lot of potential because of the special spirit of the people who live here.”

The special KKL-JNF binoculars, a KKL-JNF Education Division initiative. Photo: Tania SusskindThe day’s events included diverse activities, beginning with a hike on one of the forest trails. After the ceremony, families enjoyed themselves at activity stations, including something new and exciting – fashioning a set of KKL-JNF binoculars, with which it is possible to view even the tops of the trees, along with a special bonus – cards with little-known facts about five tree species that are common to Israel’s forests.

KKL-JNF’s head ornithologist Yaron Charka initiated a very special and unique project here about a year ago. “Together with the local youth, we built nesting boxes for titmice and hung them on the trees. We are planting a new young forest here, and the young pine trees are extremely susceptible to the pine processional moth. For the titmouse, these pests are a delectable delicacy.”

The ceremony began with greetings from Rabbi Aharon Marzibach, the rabbi of Shaalvim, who mentioned that the Torah compares people to trees: “Seeing our community here today, it occurred to me that just like there is a huge difference between a solitary tree and a forest, there is also a huge difference between a person alone and a community. I see Shaalvim as a community forest of people.”
Nesting boxes for titmice, which eat the pine processional moth, a pest to young pines. Photo: Tania Susskind
Shaul de Malach, CEO of the Ezra youth movement, said that “the forest echoes the people who live next to it, and we are here to stay for many, many generations.”

Peter Weiss, the mayor of the Gezer Regional Council, noted that this was the ideal time for a tree planting ceremony. “One of the goals of the regional council is to protect the remaining open spaces of Israel’s central region. It is our hope and prayer that the children here today will grow deep roots in the land, just like the trees they are planting.”

Yehonatan Harel, a local community forest trustee. Photo: Tania SusskindThe importance of community forests is reflected in environmental, social, educational and economic assets that draw city-dwellers close to nature and their local heritage, and encourage identification with conservation. Residents enjoy accessible, ready woodlands close to home, and a nature site that offers refuge from city tumult and air pollution. In the words of Yehonatan Harel, one of the local community forest trustees: “I’m a farmer, I love nature and I was born here. For me it’s only natural to care for the forest.”

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