Israel / Czech — In a program led by KKL-JNF, over five thousand people have already volunteered in the rehabilitation of the Carmel forest, helping to put in place measures designed to prevent future fires, and an additional five thousand volunteers are wait-listed for the coming months.
Among those volunteers motivated by caring consideration and an amazing desire to give of themselves and rally round to help rehabilitate the Carmel, one especially high caliber group stands out conspicuously. They are five professional foresters from the Czech Republic, who did not come to Israel for a vacation or a tour but, rather, to clock on for a full ten days’ work in the forest, on a totally voluntary basis and entirely at their own personal initiative. They are truly hard at it: from morning to night they prune, saw and cart away trees, in order to protect the forest from the next fire. Their efforts have been focused on the area around Ussfiya, just a few hundred meters from the source of the outbreak of the major inferno, but the sectors of the forest where they have been pruning trees and thinning out the woodland were not damaged by the fire. The areas they have treated now look well tended and the difference they are making is clearly visible and set off by nearby forest areas as yet untreated.
Karel Kana, a Czech forester, visited Israel as a tourist about two months before the fire. When he heard about the Carmel disaster just a few weeks after his return home, he knew immediately what he ought to do and came up with the idea of bringing over a group of volunteers. First, he approached the Bishop of his Church where he received a clear message that it was his duty to help Israel. Kana spoke with KKL-JNF representatives in Prague and subsequently contacted Dr. Omri Boneh, Director of KKL-JNF’s Northern Region. The KKL-JNF team expressed its enthusiasm to receive these volunteers and provided their full support to make it happen.
As Kana explains: “There is a similarity between foresting in the Czech Republic and Israel, but there are also a number of differences, in terms of the species of trees and the management of open spaces. We have virtually no fires in our country, and there is abundant rainfall throughout the year – which obviously has a significant impact on the way forest management operates.”
Two other volunteers in the group are a father and son team, Daniel Ughlidba senior and Daniel junior. The son, a student of 23, relates that he enjoys working with his father and says: “When I learned that my father intended joining the mission, I really wanted to come and help, too. I was very excited about the prospect of coming to Israel, as this is my first visit. I am happy to be here and proud to have had the opportunity to offer my assistance.”
His father adds: “As a Christian and a European, I feel that it is my duty to help Israel in any way that I can, in light of the enormous suffering the Jewish people experienced in Europe.”
Etti Azulay of KKL-JNF, who coordinates the Mt. Carmel volunteer project, relates that thousands of volunteers have been coming to help with the rehabilitation of the forest, but says that this particular group is special for her. “People who are busy with their own lives suddenly decided to take vacation time to come and volunteer in Israel – and entirely at their own expense. It warms my heart to know that there are selfless, dedicated people prepared to rally for such an important cause.”
Working together in the Carmel Forest has provided an excellent opportunity for these foresters and their Israeli counterparts to learn from each other and exchange professional impressions and experiences.
The group of Israeli volunteers was led by Adham Kayoff, a KKL-JNF forester and resident of Ussfiya. In Kayoff’s own words: “Working with our Czech counterparts has been different from work with many Israeli volunteers who are coming to the Carmel, in that it represents cooperation with one’s professional colleagues. They bring a great deal of experience and professional knowledge of forestry work. I am deeply moved to see how people from all over the world, have been coming here to offer their help.”
Beyond his work as a KKL-JNF forester, Kayoff’s connection to the specific forest area where he worked together with the Czech volunteers goes back to his childhood. He is a native of the nearby Druze village, Ussfiya, and the forest scenery has surrounded his home for his entire life. “There is nothing more distressing than seeing the burnt-out trees, but we realize that this is the way of Nature,” he says, ending on an optimistic note: “but it is a real joy to be able to see that there are already signs of new growth and revival of the forest.”
Indeed, only a few dozen meters from the site where the volunteers are working, is a large sector of forest which was completely devastated by the fire. The charred trees stand in tribute to what was once a wonderful forest. Although this presents is a stark and heartbreaking picture the restorative forces of Nature are already discernible, with scatterings of new growth springing up between the shells of the burnt-out trees – heralding the renewal of the forest.