On Sunday, November 1, 2015, members of the JNF Canada October Mission arrived at KKL-JNF’s Nachshon Forest Tree Planting Center, where they met members of another Canadian mission that was in Israel at the same time, the JNF Canada Bike Mission. They were also joined by the Canadian Ambassador to Israel, the Honorable Ms. Vivian Bercovici and senior KKL-JNF officials, who participated in the group’s activities. The group was greeted by KKL-JNF forester Eran Zabadi, who explained that due to the harsh Israeli summer, the young saplings would be watered until their roots grew deep enough to irrigate themselves.
Sam Maecushomer led the JNF Canada Bike Mission and was in Israel with his wife Michelle. “We’ve been biking on KKL-JNF trails all over, in the Golan Heights, the Galilee, the Judean Mountains and more. We’ve been doing anywhere from 35-65 kilometers a day, and we’re talking about 12 bikers aged 30-75. Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici plants a tree at the Nachshon Planting Center. Participant Tania Susskind said “It’s been beyond our wildest dreams, and Amir Rockman, our guide, has been totally amazing.”
The group proceeded on for a festive lunch at Ayalon-Canada Park, where they were joined by Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held in captivity for 5 years in Gaza by Hamas until his release four years ago. Speaking to the mission at the park, Ambassador Vivian Bercovici said that she remembered Canada Park as a child. “It’s so much more beautiful now, really a pleasure for the eyes. I also recently attended the dedication of KKL-JNF’s new botanical gardens in Acco, and I must tell you that it’s more beautiful than any park I remember in Canada. It’s wonderful that you came to Israel even at such a difficult time. The country is challenging but safe.”
Avi Dickstein, Executive Director of the KKL-JNF Resources, Development and Public Relations Division noted that Ayalon-Canada Park is fraught with history. “The Maccabees fought here, and fierce battles were fought here during Israel’s War of Independence. I want to thank JNF Canada for taking the initiative of creating Ayalon-Canada Park, which today is one of the main parks in Central Israel.”
CEO of JNF Canada, Josh Cooper, introduced Gilad Shalit, who was the guest of honour. “Gilad was released four years ago. I met him a year and a half ago, and since then we have become good friends. Gilad was in Canada for a speaking tour, and when I asked him what he likes to do, he said ‘cycling’. So we decided that the money from the tickets would go towards creating a biking trail in Canada Park in honour of all the Israeli soldiers who had been in captivity. This is the trail that we will be dedicating today.”
Gilad Shalit said that he was very excited to be at the dedication ceremony. “When I was in captivity, people all over the world prayed for me and wrote letters to their governments. I want to especially thank Canadian Jewry, for whose unwavering support I am very grateful.”
After lunch, the mission walked up the hill for the dedication of the new Ayalon cycling trail.
The ceremony was MC’d by KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol, Andy Michelson. The group also met Nurit Hibsher, KKL-JNF’s first female forester. She described the new single, which is 10 kilometers long. The ceremony took place at the exact point where the new single connects with the older Ayalon-Canada Park cycling trail, creating 20 kilometers of an exhilarating riding experience. Yiftah Sever, who planned the trail, added that it was unique in terms of the diversity of sites that it traverses, showcasing everything Ayalon-Canada Park has to offer.
David and Nessie Greenberg of Winnipeg, Canada had also been on the JNF Canada mission last year. “We learned so much with KKL-JNF last time that we decided to come back again this year. It was amazing to see how much things developed since then. For instance, in Halutza in the south – last year it was all in construction, this year there were already houses and children running around everywhere.”
Gillian Horowitz summed the trip up. “This is my first time in Israel with KKL-JNF. It’s been incredible, first-class, I was amazed by the diversity of KKL-JNF’s projects, and the leadership is fabulous. I’ve simply run out of words to describe my experience.”