Zionism and Nature in Northern Israel

Monday, January 06, 2020

“No matter how many times you come to visit, you always discover something new.”

For those eager to enjoy a spiritual experience of the Holy Land and deepen their knowledge of Jewish mysticism, nothing can compare with a visit to Tzfat, city of the Kabbalah.

On the second day of their stay, the Australian educators set out to explore this Upper Galilee capital that is also one of Israel’s ancient Four Holy Cities.

“We’re having the most amazing spiritual experience here,” said Sharon Bresler of Sydney’s Masada College, as tears of emotion flooded her eyes. “I’ve come to learn more about Israel, but I never imagined that we’d undergo such a powerful emotional experience here.”
In a swift change of atmosphere, the delegates then moved on to the State of Israel’s northern border and a jeep tour of the Golan Heights in the footsteps of Israel’s combat soldiers. From their Golan vantage point they enjoyed a panoramic view as they listened to a description of the area and its history that included details of battles fought there during Israel’s War of Independence, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War.

As they gazed at the communities in the valley below them and towards Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon, the visitors could now understand how difficult it had been for the people who lived there to lead normal lives under constant bombardment that ceased only with the IDF’s occupation of the region in the Six-Day War.

“Ever since childhood I’ve been hearing Bible stories, and I still can’t believe that I’m really here in Israel,” exclaimed Phoebe Mellody, who teaches at Mount Scopus School in Melbourne. “Learning about Israel’s history and culture is very interesting, and linking up with a group of Australian teachers makes the visit both more enjoyable and more enriching professionally.

The next stop was Hula Lake Park, which, for good reason, is famous as a paradise for both birds and people: as one of the world’s leading ornithological sites, it provides a home for around three hundred different bird species. Most prominent among them are the cranes, which have become Hula Lake's trademark. As the delegates toured the site in golf buggies, they observed some of nature’s wonders and were accorded the special privilege of ringing some of the local birds and releasing them back into the wild.

Apart from its status as an impressive natural site, Hula Lake also embodies Israel’s history of Zionism, settlement and ecology. In the past this area was notorious for its malarial swamps, and after the Israeli state was founded KKL-JNF was asked to drain them so that the site could be settled and developed for agricultural use. With time, however, the disappearance of the wetlands was found to have damaged both the local soil and the quality of the water flowing into the Sea of Galilee, and in the early 1990s KKL-JNF was called to the flag once more and asked to restore a portion of the lake.

Today Hula Lake  is a major attraction that combines nature with agriculture and tourism. KKL-JNF continues to develop the site with the help of its Friends worldwide, and a new state-of-the-art visitors center was recently added.

The day came to a joyful conclusion with folk music and dancing in Tzfat.

Ariella Gabbay and Jacqui Galler, who teach at Belview Hill School in Sydney, observed that this tour of Israel had provided an experience totally different from anything they had encountered on previous visits to the country.

“This is an opportunity to observe a different aspect of Israel and to understand why everyone says that it is a leader in so many different fields,” said Jacqui. “We’re experiencing loads of things here that we can take back with us into the classroom.”
“I came here to view Israel from a different angle,” added Ariella. “No matter how many times you come to visit, you always discover something new.”