German Forestry Students Intern with KKL-JNF

Sunday, November 30, 2014 12:35 PM

"I learned a lot about improvisation in Israel. In Germany, if you don't have the right tool, you don't do the job. Here, you get the job done whether you have the tool or not."

Kim Binder and Johannes Thomas are forestry students from Germany, both of whom came to Israel for a period of several months in order to learn about KKL-JNF's internationally acclaimed forestry work and achievements.

L-R: Kim Binder, Ahiya Tubi, and Johannes Thomas. Photo: Tania Susskind

"In Germany, 30% of the country is covered by natural forest. In a sense, our forests are more like a commodity, since they're the basis of the lumber industry and very much taken for granted.  In Israel, it's been amazing to see what people are willing to do to create forests and the appreciation everyone has here for what KKL-JNF has accomplished."  Johannes Thomas, who is ending a three-month forestry internship with KKL-JNF, studies international forestry and eco-system management at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development. He was originally a carpenter who went from working with wood to growing it.

Why did he choose Israel for his overseas studies? "I was in Israel four years ago with my girlfriend and really loved the country. I'm interested in the Middle East, and although Israel is totally different than Germany climatically, there's a lot of cultural similarity, so coming here was a good choice."

Johannes is here together with Kim Binder, who is her fifth semester of forestry economics at the Rottenburg University of Applied Forest Sciences and will be spending a total of five months in Israel. "I love trees and am fascinated by them. My aunt and uncle visit Israel quite a lot, and they told me about KKL-JNF. I contacted Johannes Guagnin , the Foreign Relations and Research Coordinator for KKL-JNF’s Afforestation Department, who arranged everything for our trip and who is also responsible for our itineraries. He's been wonderful and doesn't miss a single detail."

We met Kim and Johannes as they worked at the KKL-JNF Seed Center in Beit Nehemia, where seeds are supplied for KKL-JNF's tree nurseries. Seeds from over 300 species of trees are extracted, treated and stored here. Some of the seeds are collected from the ground, while for others, there is a need to climb up to the tree canopies, which demands rappelling skills.

"I learned a lot about improvisation in Israel," Johannes said. "In Germany, if you don't have the right tool, you don't do the job. Here, you get the job done whether you have the tool or not."

During their time in Israel, Kim and Johannes have been exposed to many and varied aspects of KKL-JNF's afforestation enterprise. They joined the Brutia pines long term monitoring project and participated in seed collecting of Ramon almonds and Atlantic pistacia in the Negev highlands. They also met Omer Golan, an entomologist, with whom they monitored pests, and spent time with Nurit Hibsher, a forest ranger at the Ben Shemen Forest. In the south, they joined researchers at Yatir Forest who work with KKL-JNF, toured the Western Negev, saw the security tree planting along the Gaza Strip border and participated in the recent Deserts, Desertification and Drylands Conference at Sde Boker, along with many other activities.

Kim said that she was impressed daily by the different culture, the trees, the people and the desert. "People relate to us very personally, and they're also interested in what I have to say and are open to discussion. My mother was in Israel volunteering in Kibbutz Mefalsim when she was the same age as I am now, and when I mentioned this to Danny Ben David, the KKL-JNF Western Negev director, he took me immediately to visit her kibbutz.

"In anticipation of my trip, I looked for places in the Bible that talk about trees. The climate here is very different than in Germany, so the forests are also very different. I had never in my life imagined creating a forest in the desert. Sometimes I think a tree is sick, and then I realize that it's probably not received enough water.

"One of the things I'm going to take back with me to Germany is the innovative thinking of the people in Israel. They're always trying to improve things. In my classes in Germany, I sometimes have the feeling that people stop thinking because it's as if we already know everything."

Ahiya Tubi, a KKL-JNF professional who worked with Johannes and Kim at the Beit Nehemia Seed Center, summed up his impression of the two German visitors: "It's a pleasure to work with them, they always think about the big picture and don't cut corners."

Johannes will be returning shortly to Germany, Kim in a couple months, but both of them agreed – it's just a matter of time until they return to Israel.