Water for the Negev

Monday, May 31, 2010 10:14 AM


Aryeh Pools Dedicated in Honor of Tom and Rae Mandel

"David Ben Gurion said that in Israel, in order to be practical, you must believe in miracles. The Aryeh Pools, which are part of KKL-JNF's water reclamation project in the Negev's Bnei Shimon region, are proof that Tom and Rae Mandel are believers in miracles." Mr. Avi Dickstein, Executive Director of KKL-JNF Resources and Development Division, was speaking on Monday, May 24, at a ceremony dedicating the Aryeh Pools in honor of the Mandels. At this site, almost all the sewage water from the nearby city of Beersheva will be treated and then pumped to KKL-JNF water reservoirs, from which the purified water will be channeled to Negev fields and crops. 
The Aryeh Pools are part of the Northern Negev Water Conservation Projects being spearheaded by JNF Australia with the help of supporters throughout Australia especially Tom and Rae Mandel who, together with their family, have been major contributors to JNF projects over many years.  
Ms. Sigal Moran, head of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council where many of JNF Australia’s water projects are situated also quoted Ben Gurion: "Ben Gurion was the founding father of the Negev, and he always said that the vast expanses of the Negev desert are our greatest resource. He added that in order to sustain life in this arid region, we would need to drill wells, purify salient water and pump water from the Jordan River. Today, sixty years later, we have the privilege to play a part in realizing this prophecy, by launching one of the most important projects in the Negev – the Aryeh Pools. To quote Ben Gurion once again: 'The Negev is the place where the Jewish people will be tested' and making the desert bloom is how we meet this challenge. I would like to thank our friends in JNF Australia, the dedicated workers of KKL-JNF Israel, including Ami Uliel, the head of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, and especially Tom and Rae Mandel, whose contribution made the Aryeh Pools possible."

Photo: KKL Photos Archive

Mr. Andy Michelson, KKL-JNF's Master of Ceremonies, who emceed the ceremony and described the Aryeh Pools project to the audience, introduced "Pini and the Carbohydrates", a local youth band who play modern Israeli music: "I'm not sure what their name means, but I'm certain you'll enjoy their music." And as Tom Mandel mentioned later, he certainly did. 
Uri Asher, deputy director of Moshavei HaNegev, who is responsible for building Aryeh Pools and additional reservoirs, spoke about the scope of the project: "We are dedicating the most important site of Israel's southern water works. I remember when Tom and Rae visited here last year and we didn't have a lot to show them. Since then, there has been a tremendous change.
"At Aryeh Pools, we purify effluents from Beersheva to a very high degree. In the past, the purified water could only be used for a limited number of crops, such as cotton and animal feed, but now, thanks to the high level of purification, the water may be used for all types of crops. Some of the water is also pumped back to the city of Beersheva, where it is used for urban landscaping, and for the Beersheva River Park. The Aryeh Pools will feed a network of five reservoirs and provide millions of cubic meters of water for this desert region. We hope that the pools will be fully operative in three months from now."
Speaking on behalf of KKL-JNF, Mr. Avi Dickstein said that Tom and Rae Mandel were actually continuing a biblical tradition: "Water is life, and you have the privilege to bring life to the Negev. Our father Abraham planted trees here, Jacob pitched his tent in the Negev, and Isaac, like you, dug wells here, because reservoirs are like modern-day wells. Ben Gurion also said that Jewish pioneers today must have vision, motivation and know-how, and these are the qualities of the modern-day builders of the Negev. The prophet Isaiah said that 'the wilderness will be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field will be considered a forest.' You are making his prophecy into a reality, and your commitment to the Negev has impacted the lives and livelihood of everyone who lives here. I look forward to meeting both of you here next year to see the fruit of your labours."
Tom Mandel said that he felt somewhat overwhelmed by all the accolades: "For Rae and myself, our greatest reward is to see the end result of what we started some years ago. A couple days ago, we visited our first KKL-JNF project in Israel, the Bahan Reservoir in the Netanya region. We wanted to meet the local farmers and learn about what water for irrigation meant for them. We saw greenery beyond belief; it was a wonderful and priceless experience.
"I must admit that in the past, I have been skeptical about the chances of actually bringing all the ideas that were presented to me to fruition, and sometimes I am impatient and critical. I also realize that oftentimes bureaucratic procedures slow things down. When the KKL-JNF people invited us to Israel this year, I asked if there was anything to see. Now that we are here, I realize that there is more to see than we even have time for. Each time we come, the country gets greener. I believe that the world will see the results of our efforts, and that they will be applauded and appreciated. I would like to thank everyone involved in this project, the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, Moshavei HaNegev, and of course KKL-JNF. We are simply delighted."

Photo: KKL Photos Archive

Avi Dickstein presented Tom Mandel with a special certificate and surprised him with a map of the many projects that have been sponsored by the Mandel family in Israel, from the northern border to the south: "We marked each project with a Magen David, and when you come back next year, we hope to affix yet another Magen David on the map."
After the ceremony was concluded, Tom Mandel went to see another project of JNF Australia - the future site of the Tifrah Reservoir, about eight kilometers from the Aryeh Pools, where KKL-JNF bulldozers were working full steam. When completed, Tifrah Reservoir will store 2 million cubic meters of water that will be pumped to it from the Aryeh Pools. It covers an area of 300 dunams (about 75 acres) and will be 17 meters deep.
But yet another surprise awaited Tom Mandel. Next to the reservoir is a new pomegranate tree plantation with over 5,000 fruit trees, in addition to fields of potatoes. The water used for irrigation of the tree plantation and vegetable fields comes from the Aryeh Pools, and Mr. Mandel said that he felt a deep sense of satisfaction when seeing all this greenery: "This is exactly what I meant when I said at the ceremony that seeing the results is our greatest reward."
A few days earlier, Tom and Rae Mandel planted trees at KKL-JNF's Aminadav Forest VIP Tree Planting Center near Jerusalem, together with the president of JNF Australia, Grahame Leonard, and his wife Ruth. As Mr. Leonard said: "KKL-JNF is about the future. For Ruth and myself, planting trees symbolizes hope for the future, what we want it to be. Tom and Rae Mandel are examples of people who understand how important it is to invest in Israel's future."
Mr. Avi Dickstein said that Tom and Rae are not only friends, they are part of the KKL-JNF family: "Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently noted that since his government came into power, they have made about 1,500 decisions. At least one of those decisions was excellent, and that is the decision to dedicate this year, the 150th anniversary of Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl's birthday, to Herzl's vision. KKL-JNF is about the fulfillment of Herzl's vision – purchasing land for the Jewish people, planting trees on the naked hilltops that Herzl saw when he traveled through what was then Palestine by train, settling the land, water projects, to mention only some of what KKL-JNF is involved with.
"We could not do this without our friends the world over. Tom and Rae, you have chosen a worthy task, you have chosen to make a difference. When I was young, I used to read the speeches of Churchill, and something he said has remained with me to this day: 'The only way to predict the future is to shape it.' You came to Israel and wanted to do something for the benefit of its citizens, and you decided to help shape our country's future. I am certain that this is only the beginning of fulfilling our shared vision for Israel. Thank you once again."
Before the Mandels and Leonards planted their trees, Rae Mandel read the Planter's Prayer beautifully and with emotion. She noted that she first planted a tree in Israel in 1956. "We were living here at the time, and my mother came to visit. We decided to go on a KKL-JNF excursion, and we were invited to plant trees. It was a very moving experience then and it is very moving now."
The two couples were presented certificates in honor of having planted trees at the VIP center. Ruth Leonard noted that this was the first certificate she had received and mentioned the Walk for Water she had just been on together with a group of Australian friends of KKL-JNF: "I can't say exactly where we had been and what we saw, but what I can say is that I have never experienced anything like it."
Her husband Grahame added that the entire Mandel family, not just Tom and Rae, is committed to Israel and KKL-JNF: "What really impresses me about the Mandel family is that for them, it's not just about giving money, but also about visiting Israel and being really involved in all the details of the projects they support. In 2004, Tom came to Israel with his two sons Colin and David for a father and sons tour of the country. That was when they were inspired to join the KKL-JNF family and to contribute towards the construction of the Bahan reservoir, and that was of course only the beginning."
As Andy Michelson, who conducted the ceremony, said: "When you plant a tree in the soil of the land of Israel, you connect to the country in a very special way. The tree stays here after you leave, it grows and develops, and whenever you come back; please make sure to come visit your tree."