“The encounter between Jewish and Arab children, who play together in this park, is an inspiring vision…Akko is an example of this to be emulated.”
A magnificent botanical garden, created with from the support of friends of JNF Canada, was inaugurated at a gala ceremony attended by the Mayor of Akko; the honourees of the Negev Dinner in Toronto, Canada, where the funds were raised for this project; the Canadian Ambassador to Israel; leaders of the Akko Jewish and Muslim communities; a JNF Canada delegation and executive officers of KKL-JNF in Israel.
“This botanical garden is a masterpiece and firmly establishes Akko’s status as a leading city,” said the Mayor of Akko, Shimon Lankry, at the ceremony.
The Mediterranean botanical garden is a focus for tourism, culture, education, recreation and leisure. Covering an area of 10.5 acres in the north of the city, it features attractions for all ages-playgrounds, walking and cycling trails, observation points, picnic areas and a large fountain.
“Thanks to our friends all around the world, we are able to turn Israel into a better and greener place,” said KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler. “This garden will enhance nature and serve as a place that reinforces understanding between the city’s residents of different faiths.”
This unique botanical garden presents the diversity of the flora of the Mediterranean Basin; of the Atlas Mountains in North Africa and the forests of the Iberian peninsula, a variety of ancient species from the Canary Islands, flora of the Eastern Mediterranean and, of course, of the Coastal Plain and the Negev of Israel.
The park serves the 15 thousand people who live in the neighbourhoods next to it, the 60 thousand residents of the entire city and the numerous tourists and visitors who come to Akko. It is a model of sustainability due to the use of ecological materials and harvested rainwater, and its wide and expansive paths are accessible for all.
Donations for the project were raised at the Negev Dinner, which took place in Toronto in 2012 in honour of Fred and Linda Waks. The honoured couple attended the dedication ceremony in Akko and toured the botanical garden, where they were impressed by the plants, by the facilities and by the people they met there.
“The connection between visionary people is what made this botanical garden possible,” said Fred Waks. “The encounter between Jewish and Arab children, who play together in this park, is an inspiring vision. We need inspiration and leadership, and Akko is an example of this to be emulated.”
Josh Cooper, CEO of JNF Canada, graciously thanked everyone who turned the dream of creating the botanical garden into a reality and said, “This is the most spectacular park in Israel.”
The inauguration of the site took place on October 13, 2015, in the midst of a wave of terror and violence engulfing Israel. The population of Akko, a city with a long history, includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bahai. Among the representatives of different faiths present at the ceremony were Rabbi Yosef Yashar, the Chief Rabbi of the City of Akko, and Sheikh Abbas Zakhur, a leader of the Arab community of Akko. The two leaders, together with Mayor Lankry, planted an olive tree in the park, a symbol of peace, brotherhood, co-existence and living together.
“It is time for true peace, where everyone can live with dignity, and we have to be the bridge to peace,” said Sheikh Abbas as he stood beside Rabbi Yashar. When asked what issues were hard to resolve between the Jewish and Muslim communities, Abbas smiled and replied, “How to dress.”
“Living together in cooperation, through mutual respect between Jews and Arabs, is proving itself even in times like these,” said Mayor Shimon Lankry. “Brutal terrorism will not undermine our efforts to live in Israel in peace. We have a strong and solid country.”
The event was honoured by the presence of the Ambassador to Israel from Canada, Vivian Bercovicci. “Many special people took part in creating this amazing park. Let us hope that the spirit of peace, which has accompanied this project, shall spread throughout the country,” said Ambassador Bercovicci.
Israeli entrepreneur Michael Strauss, who is involved in promoting many projects in Akko, also took part in the creation of the botanical garden. Among other things, Strauss supports the Akko Music Conservatory, some of whose outstanding students enhanced the park dedication ceremony with music and song.
During the ceremony, many children stood on the side waiting for the event to end so that they could go back to their fun and games in the new adventure playground -proof that the site has already become an attraction and a venue for children and families to have a good time. Just like the variety of plants from different regions growing together in the botanical garden, the park also brings a variety of people together, who live in the city of Akko side by side.