Birdsong Instead of Rockets
Sderot Children's Holiday at KKL-JNF Field Center
A group of some forty young people from Sderot recently took a break from living on the firing line to enjoy three days of excursions and nature walks in and around Jerusalem, under the auspices of KKL-JNF. The youngsters were delighted to have the chance to get away from the Gaza periphery, where they suffer intermittent barrages of shelling, and hear birdsong and the rustle of leaves in the wind, instead of the wail of sirens and the crash of falling rockets. The activities, which were organized by the Nes Harim Field and Forest Center’s educational division, were made possible thanks to the support of Friends of KKL-JNF in Australia.
“There’s an enormous difference between the tense atmosphere of Sderot and the peace and tranquility of nature,” said 15-year-old Vicky Shabtayev. “It’s great to go on a trip with friends and see beautiful and interesting places together.”
The group’s guide Sveta Shitrit explained that the activity’s main themes were nature, environment and ecology: “The aim is to offer a different kind of excursion, in which they get to know the countryside by walking through it and learning about environmental issues.”
The youngsters visited the Shimshon water reclamation facility at Kibbutz Tzora, where sewage from the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council is treated. They saw how sewage water is transformed into clean water suitable for irrigation and learned how KKL-JNF is rehabilitating Israel’s rivers.
“Now we’ve got a better understanding of what happens to water after we’ve finished using it,” said 15-year-old Maria Shohat, adding: “We learned about this at school, but at the reclamation facility we didn’t just listen to explanations – we could see and smell exactly what it was all about!”
There was also an excursion to Sataf, which impressed everyone with its beauty – especially evident now, when the spring flowers are in bloom. The visitors enjoyed the springs, tunnels and pools, which were full to capacity after the bountiful rains of the past winter. The youngsters learned about ancient agricultural techniques and walked among the orchards that border the trail on both sides.
KKL-JNF, with the help of its Friends in Switzerland, has reconstructed the ancient terraces at the site, restored the collection pools of the Ein Sataf and Ein Bikura springs and re-dug the irrigation channels. This work now enables guides to demonstrate to visitors the agricultural techniques used in Biblical times.
The terraces, which are planted with olives, grapes, figs and pomegranates, are linked by a network of paths that allow visitors to view ancient agricultural artifacts such as wine presses and watchmen’s lookouts. KKL-JNF renovated the site in the 1980s, and the restoration and maintenance work continues today with the help of schoolchildren, soldiers and volunteers. “I’ve never been on such a special trip as this, where you walk a lot and learn about the country,” said 14-year-old Liza Gorlik.
Ariel Agronov, who is also fourteen years old, said he had decided to go on the trip mainly so as to have fun in the countryside with his friends. “It’s great fun to go to a beautiful place like this,” he said.
The youngsters also visited the Stalactite Cave, Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade in Armon HaNetziv and the Time Elevator, where they learned something of Jerusalem’s history throughout the ages.
Many of the participants came originally from countries of the former Soviet Union. Most are already veteran Israelis, but among them were several new immigrants who had arrived in Israel just a few weeks earlier. Thirteen-year-old Xenia Novikova immigrated from Russia less than two months ago, and this was her first excursion in Israel and her first opportunity to see a little more of her new homeland.
“There are lots of beautiful places in Russia, too,” she said, “but it’s more beautiful here, perhaps because of the special feeling I have, that I’ve reached my homeland.” As many members of the group spoke Russian, Xenia had no trouble communicating with her new Israeli friends.
Spending the night at the Nes Harim Field and Forest Educational Center was a major part of the whole experience, too, explained 15-year-old Netanel Smichov: “This is the first time I’ve been here, and it’s a really exceptional feeling to sleep in the middle of the countryside,” he said.
Savi Izolov (18), one of the older members of the group, had already visited Nes Harim last summer. “It’s always fun to come here,” he said. “I’m really impressed by the way the place has been upgraded.”
The Nes Harim facility recently inaugurated a new teaching center that includes a 15-station computer laboratory, a synagogue, an events hall and five classrooms, one of which is a “smart” classroom with an integrated e-learning system. Roads and paths have been upgraded, and, according to Director Simon Elbaz, the next project is a permanent structure for the Center’s dining room.
After the trip all the youngsters returned home to Sderot refreshed and invigorated by their experience. “We really needed this holiday, and we enjoyed getting in touch with nature,” said 15-year-old Lior Grinspon. “But,” he added, “We never forget that Sderot is our home. In spite of all the difficulties, we have no intention of ever abandoning Sderot.”