KKL-JNF France Walkathon: Walking for Water, in Water

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 2:41 PM

The 15th Walkathon of Friends of KKL-JNF from France took place this year in the Golan Heights.


Walk in Water. Photo: Dror Artzi

The 15th Walkathon of Friends of KKL-JNF France took place this year in the Golan Heights. This trip takes place every year, and is called the Walk for Water, since its purpose is to raise awareness about Israel's water problem, and about KKL-JNF's contribution towards finding progressive solutions for the ongoing water crisis.
This year, Walkathon participants jokingly called it the Walk in Water, since much of the route was along the watercourses of the Golan Heights, which benefited from this winter's bountiful rainfall. Nahal Jilaboun, Ein a-Teena, the Banias, Nahal Snir, Nahal Zevitan, Nahal Daliyot, Nahal El Al—these are some of the routes they walked.
Nahal El Al is the southernmost perennial stream in the Golan. It has two waterfalls and an abundance of pools and aquatic plant life. Its nature reserve, which is named after the stream, covers an area of 3,000 dunams (3 sq km).
"The water issue has become a universal concern, and it is certainly a major issue in Israel," said Reuven Naamat, chief emissary of KKL-JNF in France. "Here in Israel at least we know how to deal with the problem, by means of KKL-JNF's important work in building reservoirs and water reclamation plants, along with other solutions."
Participants in the Walkathon included 80 people from all over France, and others from Belgium and Switzerland. Almost all of them are involved in some kind of sport, and many of them are in the Friends of KKL-JNF France walking club. Their love for walking and excursions was clearly evident throughout their week in Israel. They walked non-stop, ascending and descending the slopes of the Golan watercourses with the skillfulness and grace of professional mountain hikers.

Reuven Naamat.
Photo: Yoav Devir

Aimée Fanny Cohen.
Photo: Yoav Devir 

Lazar Perez and Joelle Horn. Photo: Yoav Devir

Aimée Fanny Cohen is indeed a member of the Friends of KKL-JNF walking club in her country, "but," as she said while hiking the El Al creek, "hiking in Israel gives one an entirely different feeling. The landscapes are different, and it's very exciting."
Most of the Walkathon participants are in their fifties. However, Lazar Perez from Belgium, who is aged 81, was skipping over the stones like a young boy. "I love coming here and connecting to Israel", he said. "You really get to know Israel by walking the land on foot. During this trip we have come to understand the importance of water. It is an international issue, and I believe the whole world can learn from KKL-JNF's experience in this field."
His daughter Joelle Horn, who accompanied him on the trip, said with a big smile, "My mother sent me to keep an eye on my father, because she knows that there are a lot of beautiful single women here." This was her first time on the Walk for Water walkathon, and her father's fifth. "I lived in Jerusalem for seven years, but I was never in most of the places we have seen on this trip."
For Gerard Opoczynski, it was his sixth Walk for Water walkathon, "but there are new things every time," he said, "and with every step I take, I learn new things."
Honorary President of KKL-JNF France, Frederick Nordmann, explained why the Golan was chosen to illustrate the water issue. "The Golan Heights is the most important reservoir of Israel, and when you travel here you understand the importance of this issue."

Gerard Opoczynski.
Photo: Yoav Devir

Frederick Nordmann.
Photo: Yoav Devir

Gamla views.
Photo: Yoav Devir

When they arrived at the ancient Um al-Kantir synagogue, Nordmann said, "The remnants of the Jewish communities from the era of the Talmud are an important part of our history and attest to the life that flourished here in the past." The Um al-Kantir synagogue was the spiritual center of a Jewish village in the Byzantine period. It is one of the most important and most beautiful synagogues discovered in Israel, and the only one where the ark was preserved. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century, and restoration work is now being carried out in order to make it the oldest functioning synagogue in the world. The Walkathon participants were not going to wait for the work to be completed, however, and they lifted their voices in prayer and sang a hymn at the historic site.

2012 Walk for Water T-shirt. Photo: Yoav Devir

Since it was their last day of the trip, the group held a short closing ceremony on the summit above Um al-Kantir, facing a panoramic view of the region, and, after some words of thanks, they made a toast.
From there, they proceeded to a unique southern Golan community called Natur, where they met Guy Ben Simhon, a local resident, who told them that this was originally the site of a Shomer Hatzair kibbutz founded in 1980, and then, in 2008, they decided to transform it into a mixed community for religious and secular people. At present, they live together side by side, secular, modern religious and ultra-Orthodox Israelis, and their children go to school together. This is a unique model, which might appear natural to French Jews, explained Ben Simhon, but in Israel it is entirely out of the ordinary.
"This place fulfills the wish of many people to live together in harmony," said Ben Simhon. "We want to establish a microcosm of an open, Zionist society, with a high level of education and a high standard of living." There are around 240 people living in Natur, half of whom are children. The people work in agriculture and independent professions. Figuring out how to earn a living is without a doubt one of the main challenges of living in the Golan. For example, as Ben Simhon said, his wife commutes 200 km a day to her job. "We are fighting for the privilege of living in the Golan," he said.
The meeting was so fascinating that the friends from France had a hard time saying goodbye. They promised to come back again for a weekend, and, who knows, perhaps to come and live there some day. Later in the afternoon, after a long day, the Walkathon participants relaxed in the hot springs of Hamat Gader. In the evening, they held a gala dinner to conclude their trip, which was attended by KKL-JNF Co-Chairman Eli Aflalo. The walkers spent their last weekend in Israel in Jerusalem, and before their departure, they held a dedication ceremony for a garden for children with autism in the Zionist Youth Village in Jerusalem, which was planted with the help of a contribution from Friends of KKL-JNF in France.