Thursday, May 20, 2010 10:14 AM
At 7:30 in the morning, a group of intrepid walkers from Australia got off their bus at the breathtaking Banias Springs in northern Israel. Although they had just finished a strenuous hike on the slopes of Mount Hermon the day before, they were ready and waiting for a hike along the headwaters of the Jordan River, where they learned about Israel's northern water sources firsthand.
The day included hiking Nahal Hermon, from its source at the Banias Springs, to where it flows into the Jordan River. In the afternoon, they followed the Dan River and Haztbani River, ending the day by sailing kayaks down the river. This was the second day of KKL-JNF Australia's Walk for Water, a five-day walkathon along the streams of Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, the region that is the source of a great deal of Israel's freshwater.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Rosie Potaznik, Vice-President of JNF Victoria, who organized the Walkathon, spoke about how the idea came about: "We received a letter from the KKL-JNF leadership in Israel asking us to think about new venues for bringing people to Israel. I remembered the Walk for Water we did in 1999, which was very inspiring and very meaningful for me. KKL-JNF is so connected to water systems, so we thought about a walk that would include learning about where the water come from, not just the projects aimed at maximizing the amount of water available for daily life. Ze'ev Kedem was very supportive and helpful in organizing the walk, and Grahame Leonard, the president of JNF Australia, was very excited about it. The walk was planned by Shlomo Ben-Haim and it really hits the nail on the head. We are seeing things we never saw before. Doesn’t it say in the Talmud that it's a mitzvah to walk four cubits in places in the Land of Israel for the first time?
"What's also special about this walk is that it's not just about contributions. By walking the land, people see the country firsthand and when they describe their experiences to people back home, it's really very inspiring. I was responsible for the mission and publicized it in Melbourne, and Alan promoted it in Sydney. I'm so glad I could bring this to fruition!"
On one of the rare moments when the group stopped hiking for a short break, Grahame Leonard, the current president of JNF Australia and past president of the Australian Jewish community, told us that he decided to concentrate on working for JNF Australia as a means of expressing his commitment to Israel: "There are about 130,000 Jews in Australia today, and we are a very vibrant community. Australia and Israel have a lot in common – they are both immigrant countries that absorb new arrivals and are vigorous democracies, so there is a lot of room for cooperation. We both share water issues and agricultural, technological and environmental challenges. KKL-JNF's CEO, Yael Shealtiel, has been facilitating activities between KKL-JNF and Australia. She's sort of like a midwife for coordinating between academic and governmental institutions in both countries. One example of collaboration between Australia and KKL-JNF is the Kfar Saba bio-filter project, which we hope will be the first of many.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
"KKL-JNF's strength in Australia has to do with the fact that it focuses on specific projects. For example, groups of young people come to Israel to see what KKL-JNF is doing, and then choose a project they want to support. In conjunction with KKL-JNF bureaus in forty other countries, we are creating a virtual network called 'JNF Future', because the beauty of KKL-JNF is that it is future oriented. It thinks about things like quality of life, water and the Negev. JNF Australia has two priorities – water and the Negev. One of our challenges is to let people know that KKL-JNF is not just about planting trees, and that it concentrates on sustainability and generally on making life better for everyone in Israel. Education is also a very important aspect of our work, especially with the third generation of Australian Jews. We need to stand up against the de-legitimization of Israel that is becoming an increasingly serious problem throughout the world."
The group saw the only active water mill in Israel and heard about how Syria had attempted to divert Nahal Hermon when it controlled the Golan Heights. Dov Potaznik, Rosie's husband, was full of good humor and loved every moment of the walk: "I was on the KKL-JNF Executive for many years. The first Water Walk was in 1999, when we hiked from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee together with people from KKL-JNF France. This year, we timed the walk to coordinate with the Board of Governors meeting of Tel Aviv University, which some of us attended. We want this year's Walk for Water to kick-start an annual walk like this for 18-25 adults.
"Yesterday, we visited Bahan Reservoir, a project of JNF Australia near Netanya. Then we were at the KKL-JNF tree nursery at Golani Junction, where we met Israeli kids participating in a KKL-JNF youth camp. We planted trees there and recited the Planter's Prayer, which is always a very emotional experience. We're trailblazers who will be going back to Australia as ambassadors and storytellers. The people who we'll be talking with in Australia will get a sense of Israel without having been here themselves."
Dita Gould was at the head of the line of hikers: "I keep in shape by taking daily walks with a group in Australia every morning at 6:45 AM. I've been a great Zionist ever since I heard about the establishment of the state of Israel when I was a young girl in Paris in 1948, when we danced all through the night. I've collected Blue Boxes for KKL-JNF since then. Without KKL-JNF, there would be no Israel. I have been following KKL-JNF activities from the very beginning – from purchasing the land to clearing the rocks, planting trees, paving roads, infrastructure, water and everything related to ecology and the environment. KKL-JNF is a part of my life because of my love for the state of Israel."