The delegations’ itinerary included visits to various sites in Jerusalem, to the Gaza border and a series of meetings.
Also participating in the delegation was Lance Davis, the new CEO of JNF Canada, who began his tenure just a few weeks ago. The visit to Israel was one of the first things he did as CEO, and it was not by chance. “Our goal is to better the lives of the residents of Israel and to strengthen the bond between Canadian Jewry and Israel,” he said. “Israel is at the core of our Jewish identity. The country’s strength and vitality makes us very proud.” Davis added that he sees KKL-JNF affiliates as ambassadors for the state of Israel. “It is important for us to spread knowledge about Israel and about its contribution to the world, to humanity, to the environment and to sustainability.”
The delegations’ itinerary included visits to various sites in Jerusalem, a visit to the Gaza border and to the Border Police base in Michmash. During their visit, a series of meetings and joint events with leading Israeli government and military officials were planned for the delegation, including a ceremony at Ammunition Hill marking the fiftieth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, with the participation of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a meeting with former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Moshe (“Bogie”) Ya’alon, an evening with the participation of former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, a conversation with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and an event hosted by the Canadian ambassador to Israel.
“Israel is always in our hearts and is a part of our souls,” said Stanley Plotnick from Montreal, who came to Israel together with his wife Barbara. “When we come to Israel, we don’t feel that we’re here for a visit, but rather that we came back home.” Plotnick was the guest of honor at the JNF Montreal 2002 Negev Dinner, where contributions were raised for developing Beersheva River Park, a beautiful green gem whose humble beginnings as a garbage-strewn dried out riverbed are unrecognizable today.
“It’s very important for me to be involved in what’s happening in Israel, and not just to come for tours. Our big challenge at the present time is to strengthen the younger generations’ connection to Israel.”
The visit to Israel’s capital city took place at a very exciting time, during the visit of United States President Donald Trump and the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification as a result of the Six Day War.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat greeted the Canadian delegation on the first day of their visit and shared his childhood memories with them:
“I was seven years old when the Six Day War broke out. I remember how I helped the soldiers fill up sacks of sand and how I hid under the bed while the city was being shelled. When the war was over, it was hard for me to understand why the adults were crying tears of joy. It was only years later, when I was serving as a young officer in the IDF paratroopers’ brigade, that I understood what a great victory that war was for us.”
Barkat described Jerusalem’s development at the present time to the visitors: “Culture is flourishing, the younger generation is becoming more connected to the city, the hi-tech industry is prospering and the city is in a constant state of construction. KKL-JNF and its friends throughout the world have made a significant contribution, which helps us a great deal. We are the generation who have the honor to live in a unified Jerusalem, so I hope you enjoy your visit to our city.”
“It’s always special and moving to be in Jerusalem,” said Barbara Farber from Ottawa. She was the guest of honor at the JNF Ottawa 2016 Negev Dinner that led to the establishment of the Misgav Regional Sports and Science Center for Jewish and Arab children in Northern Israel. The visit to Israel afforded her an opportunity to see the project’s progress firsthand.
Her husband Len Farber added: “Israel is the center of Jewish life. We have been involved in what happens in Israel for over forty years. Now, our son lives here, so for us it’s also a family visit.”
The members of the delegation visited the Western Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem, accompanied by Israel Police foreign press spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld, who reviewed the security situation for them. “Israel has to deal with many security threats, and Jerusalem is the most complex and most sensitive spot,” he said. “Any event at the Western Wall or the Temple Mount has the potential of inciting riots throughout the county.” He told them that only the night before, the Israeli Police arrested 21 people suspected of being involved in terror in Judea and Samaria.
“I visit Israel quite often, but this visit together with central donors is especially important,” said Frank Wilson, Chairman of the JNF Canada Board of Directors, who was also the organization’s past president. “It is important for us to bring Jews and non-Jews on trips to Israel. This is a wonderful country, and the spirit of Israel makes us young again.”
Arnie Unger remembered his first visit to Israel, which took place sixty years ago. “At the time, Israel was mainly a desert. Since then, every time I come here, I am excited to see how the country is growing and being constantly renewed.”