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On the evening of Thursday, October 29, 2015, the JNF Canada October Mission visited and had dinner at an extraordinary site – the excavations around and below Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

There is much more than what meets the eye in Jerusalem, as the JNF Canada October Mission discovered while touring around and beneath the area adjacent to the Western Wall on a cool autumn evening.

The evening began with a guided tour of the excavations currently taking place near the Western Wall, with an emphasis on past findings and future plans. The group was guided by Mordechai Eliav from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, who took them to a number of fascinating sites not yet open to the general public.

JNF Canada is sponsoring an exciting new project in the Western Wall Tunnels; the renovation and creation a new central hall facing the famous 600 ton stone embedded in the Western Wall, the largest of its kind. JNF Canada CEO, Josh Cooper, and KKL-JNF Executive Director of Resources, Development and PR ,Avi Dickstein. The hall will serve as an educational focus for groups visiting the tunnels, where they will learn what this complex was about in the past and what it is today.

The group included about 30 participants, some of whom were visiting Israel for the first time. After the tour of the tunnels, the group was invited for dinner in an extraordinary setting – a 700 year old restored Crusader hall located in the Western Wall Tunnels complex.

Speaking at the dinner, JNF Canada CEO Josh Cooper recalled that when the mission was first planned, “we had no idea what the security situation would be in Israel. We weighed cancelling the Jerusalem dinner, but Avi Dickstein said ‘you have to come to Jerusalem, and I’ll make certain that the group has as many security guards as necessary.’ Now that you see how special this place is, you can understand why we didn’t want to forego being here. We want to share Jerusalem with the rest of the world, and to do so, we need to develop and maintain it.”

DSC00002Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, welcomed the group and also commended them for coming to Israel now. “I was recently in Mexico, and it’s much more dangerous to walk in the streets there than it is in Jerusalem. The fact that you chose to promote a project here, in the very heart of the eternal city of Jerusalem, means that you are playing an important part in the eternal story of the Jewish people. Am Yisrael Hai – the people of Israel lives and will continue to live!”

For Stan and Rhoda Cooper of Toronto, this was their first visit in Jerusalem. “I’m overwhelmed by what I’ve experienced,” Rhoda said. “I’m so impressed by the exceptional dedication of the Israeli people, by their ability to survive in difficult circumstances and by how passionate they are.”

Avi Dickstein, Executive Director of the KKL-JNF Resources, Development and PR Division, told the group that before he began working with KKL-JNF, he had been the head of the March of the Living program. “My parents’ families were murdered in the Holocaust. When I visited Poland for the first time, just as you did before you came to Israel, I felt that I fully understood the meaning of the words ‘to be a free people in our land’ for the first time in my life. I also had a deeper understanding of just how important KKL-JNF’s work is, and the role of our wonderful donors.”

“Since KKL-JNF’s inception, JNF Canada has played an important role in purchasing land and promoting projects. There is no geographical region in this country where you can’t find a Canadian project. We all have the same vision and goal, and we will see you again soon in Jerusalem!” Dickstein concluded.