April 26, 2010
The journey took place to mark Herzl's 150th birthday, going through Budapest, Hungary (where Herzl was born and grew up);
Thirty-five members of the Next Generation mission participated in a journey in the footsteps of Binyamn Ze'ev Herzl that was organized by the World Zionist Organization, with the support of KKL-JNF. The mission included young Jewish Zionists from various countries throughout the world: the U.S.A., Australia, France, South America and Israel.
The journey took place to mark Herzl's 150th birthday, going through Budapest, Hungary (where Herzl was born and grew up); Vienna, Austria (where he lived with his parents and studied law); Paris, France (where he worked as a journalist and formed his worldview); Basel, Switzerland (where he convened the First Zionist Congress in 1897) and various sites in Israel. Needless to say, Uganda was one country they didn't make it to.
David Breakston, a member of the World Zionist Organization Executive and head of the Department of Zionist Activities, explained that the purpose of the journey was "to internalize Herzl's dream and see how it was realized. We don’t see Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl as a figure from the past, but rather as a person whose vision remains relevant and challenges us daily."
The mission visited spots central to Herzl's life and to the history of the Zionist movement, which he founded and led. They toured sites mentioned in his books, visited centers of the Jewish community and met community heads. During part of the journey, the young people were joined by the heads of European Jewish communities and representatives from Israel, including KKL-JNF World Chairman Mr. Efi Stenzler, so that the full delegation numbered 100 representatives from ten different countries.
The mission arrived in Israel in time to celebrate Israel Independence Day and to learn firsthand about the country that Herzl envisioned. They toured Jerusalem and went south to Sderot and the villages on the Gaza border, where they saw how local residents live under the constant threat of missile bombardment.
KKL-JNF accompanied their visit to Israel, including a guided tour to Herzl House in Hulda Forest, which was renovated thanks to a contribution of friends of KKL-JNF from the USA and Canada. Members of the mission were very interested in the history of the site, and they heard how KKL-JNF began to plant olive tree plantations in 1904 in the Hulda lands in memory of Herzl, who passed away that year. In 1909, a farm for planting olive trees was established, and the building named for Herzl was built. Lack of experience adversely affected planting, and out of 12,000 olive saplings, only 3,000 took root successfully. Later on, the farm became a study center and the olive trees were joined by fruit trees and forest groves, with almond trees, pines, acacias, cypress and carobs, together with chicken coops, a cowshed, fields and agricultural industry.
During the First World War, the farm was abandoned by most of it workers, and the few who were left had to deal with a severe lack of water and the plague of locusts that attacked Israel. At the end of the war, pioneers who underwent professional training settled Hulda, developed it and forested the mountain. During the 1929 pogroms, Hulda's defenders faced a ferocious attack of the local Arabs. Efraim Chizek, who came to help defend Hulda, fell in the battle. In 1931, a group of pioneers from the "Gordonia" movement of Poland resettled the site. A few years later, this group founded Kibbutz Hulda, which still thrives today on a nearby hill.
Today, the forest covers an area of more than 200 dunams, and includes recreation areas with picnic tables. There is a signposted hiking trail that goes through the forest. KKL-JNF renovated Herzl House in honor of Israel's fiftieth anniversary, thanks to a contribution of John Sereny of Toronto, Canada. The exhibition in Herzl House was created thanks to a contribution of the Brian Chisick family from the USA. The house has a permanent exhibition and shows a short movie about Herzl and his activities.
Besides Herzl House, there are a number of outstanding sites in the area: a water pool from which water was channeled to Jerusalem during the War of Independence after the main water pipe was disconnected; a memorial for Efraim Chisick; Rachel's Forest Grove, which was planted in memory of the poetess Rachel; and a quarry that supplied building stones and later became a Hagganah shooting range.
After the visit to Herzl House, the group continued to a tree planting ceremony in Aminadav Forest near Jerusalem. This is where Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl planted a tree when he visited Israel. The forest covers an area of about 7,000 dunams and includes springs, agricultural terraces, fruit tree plantations, and ancient oil and wine presses. At the entrance to the forest, KKL-JNF built recreation spots with sports and playground installations. The forest has biking trails, a navigation trail and a trail suitable for people with disabilities, all developed and maintained thanks to contributions of friends of KKL-JNF from throughout the world, including Germany and Switzerland.
Members of the mission planted terebinths, a tree known for its durability that also grows quickly. One could see the excitement on the faces of the members of the mission as they held the seedlings in their hands and then covered the roots with the soil of the land of Israel.
Julie Hochstadter of Chicago: "We are having a great time and learning a lot of new stuff. I know that the older generation is concerned that the younger people are less connected to Zionism and Judaism, but I actually met here a group of young Jewish people from all over the world who are very committed and are very interested in what is going on in Israel."
Ruth Ouazana, France: "I visited Israel many times, but there was something special and unique about this visit. There is no question that meeting everyone was a central part of the experience. We spoke a lot among ourselves about the meaning of being Jewish and Zionists."
Liora Kaufman, New York: "I am very involved in Zionist activities, and this was an opportunity to experience the Zionist journey together with other young people from various places. I was always attached to Israel, but today, the state has much deeper meaning as far as I am concerned. I discovered that a journey like this gives you a lot of strength."
Michael Forbes, New York: "Most of the other members of the mission have already visited Israel a number of times, but it's the first time for me. The truth is that Israel is rather different than I expected, but it's a beautiful land and a wonderful country. A special connection was formed between all the members of the group, and I hope and believe that we'll keep in touch in the future."
Anat Wiezel, Israel, is a member of the Israel Leadership Institute, an educational institute that trains the next generation of Israeli leaders: "The journey in Herzl's footsteps opened a lot of new vistas up for me. I now have a much better understanding of the special link between Jews living in the Diaspora and the state of Israel, and their desire to be part of what's going on here.
Esther Weinstein, director of the KKL-JNF Tourism Department, accompanied the group and guided them on their visit to Herzl House and Aminadav Forest. "KKL-JNF is a central partner to the realization of Herzl's vision, and it is important that our young friends understand this and get to know about our organization's activities."