Groups of Jews from Latin America plant trees in Israel, after visiting the sites where their people were murdered during the Holocaust in Poland. First they saw how the Nazis tried to destroy the life of the Jewish people, and then they flew to Israel to plant trees and celebrate Israel Independence Day with crowds of Israelis.
Every year, youth from all over the world participate in a powerful program called “March of the Living.” The groups are flown from their home countries to visit a number of death camps in Poland where millions of Jews were annihilated. The experience culminates with a 3-kilometer silent march on Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) between Auschwitz and Birkenau.
The trip continues as the participants are flown to Israel. After spending a week learning about the destruction of the Jewish people in Europe, they are surrounded by Israelis celebrating freedom and independence. During their time in Israel, groups of March of the Living participants from Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela planted trees in the Nachshon Forest near Jerusalem at the KKL-JNF planting center.
Spontaneously, in a moment of joy and thanksgiving, the group of 150 Argentinean Jews broke into song as they prepared to plant trees. They were singing Shehechiyanu, the blessing said on a Jewish holiday, or when performing certain commandments like sitting in a sukkah or lighting Hanukah candles, or in this case, planting a tree in Israel. Members of the Cuban and Venezuelan communities joined in the singing.
The tree planting began by reciting the Planter’s Prayer in Hebrew and Spanish. Certificates of appreciation were presented to the planters and it was time for the visitors to roll up their sleeves and start their planting project in the Israeli soil. Care was taken so that the roots of the young Arizona Cyprus seedlings were properly covered. After all, they had come a long way to ensure that their trees would grow and flourish and turn into a forest one day.
The Latin-American Department Director for KKL-JNF, Arieh Edelheit welcomed the energetic group to the planting center. Edelheit has also been in Poland for the March of the Living and said he returned from the experience with mixed feelings, but seeing this group ready to plant trees filled him with optimism.
“I can only feel that despite it all “Am Israel Hai”—the people of Israel live,” he said. “On this trip we went from pain and the loss of a great part of our nation to this—and look how beautiful it is. Israel is the only place in the world that began the 21st century with more trees than were here in the 20th century.”
Many who plant in Israel feel like they are leaving behind a connection to the land. They remember that although the Jewish people may still be scattered throughout the earth, their roots will always be in Israel.
Planting a tree in Israel after their trip to Poland was a very appropriate conclusion to their trip. Everyone involved saw clearly how it symbolizes the continuation of life - new life in Israel.
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Photo: Judith Sudilowski