The following letter was sent today to JNF staff from Andy Michelson, Director of the JNF USA Department in Israel, about his experience yesterday planting trees with special needs children.
Shalom from Jerusalem!
As you all know, we at Jewish National Fund are constantly talking about the good that our organization does for Israel. I have been working with JNF for over 12 years, and I have personally witnessed the change that our organization has made to Israel. Land, Forests, Parks, Water are all things that we work with on a day-to-day basis.
Yesterday was different!
Yesterday I spent the day being humbled.
Yesterday I spent the day learning from others the importance of the work we do.
Yesterday I spent the day with "Ztamid", the Israeli Organization for Special Needs Children, participating in their annual Tu B’Shevat Program.
Yesterday over 600 children and their parents/care givers participated in a festive day at the JNF Nes Harim Youth Camp in the American Independence Park, near Jerusalem. They came from all over Israel, some traveling for over 3 hours in order to participate.
They were greeted at the camp by JNF staff, and over 200 youth leaders (madrichim) from Bnei Akiva and Noah Oved V'Lomed, who gave up a day, to help these special children enjoy this event.
How humble I felt watching these children, some walking, some blind, some in wheel chairs, some needed assistance, some fiercely independent. Not only the joy on their faces, but the happiness of their parents, of their care givers, and of the madrichim (many from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia) who were able to share this special event.
How many trees have I planted in my 12 years with JNF?? Hundreds, maybe even thousands. Never have I seen the intensity and feeling that can come about from the planting of a fresh new sapling into the moist ground.
I stood and witnessed children standing, sitting and even lying on the ground. Carefully deepening the holes, and delicately placing the sapling, then covering the roots with soil. They recited the Planters Prayer, some by themselves, some with assistance, and some simply listening to a madrich reciting the prayer on their behalf. It was a moving site that will stay forever engraved in my memory.
Planting was followed by some speeches (short) and a number of wonderful performances by the children. A play, some songs, a choir. All done with enthusiasm and dedication that left most of us with a lump in our throats, and a tear in our eyes.
Yesterday I saw that JNF is not just Land, Trees and Water. Not just projects helping cities, towns and villages. Not just huge projects costing thousands and millions of dollars.
Yesterday we put a smile on hundreds of faces, children and adults, and we helped some people perform a mitzvah, and all as a part of the day-to-day activities that JNF is involved with.
Yesterday I felt very proud of our organization!