WINNIPEG — Some of the money raised at last year’s Jewish National Fund’s Negev Gala here were earmarked for a new JNF project to send children of Canadian military families to visit Israel, in part as an expression of solidarity with the Canadian Armed Forces and our role in Afghanistan.
The first group, consisting of 30 participants age 16 to 21 and three chaperones, recently returned from Israel.
“Everyone was really excited,” says Christine Brine, one of the chaperones and the co-ordinator of the trip.
Sarah Sauve, from Kingston, N.S., was looking forward to experiencing a different culture and climate. “Israel was amazing,” says the Grade 12 student whose father has served in the military for 20 years. “It’s a beautiful country.”
Sauve says she really enjoyed Tel Aviv and a visit to a Bedouin camp. “The camel ride was also cool,” she adds.
Among the highlights of the trip for chaperone Eric MacKenzie, who is also from Nova Scotia, were floating in the Dead Sea and watching the sun rise while standing at the top of Massada.
“I had no idea Israel was so tropical,” says the 24-year-old Canadian Armed Forces civilian employee – MacKenzie is the Wing 14 community recreational co-ordinator. “I was also surprised to see so much development in such a small area.”
This was Brine’s second visit to Israel. Eight years ago, she toured the country as part of a performing arts group from Grant Park High School in south Winnipeg. “I hadn’t been north the last time,” she comments. “We really got a good idea of how close everything is in that area.”
Brine, who works out of CFB 17 Wing in Winnipeg, says the participants for the trip were chosen based on essays they submitted. They also had to commit to 40 hours of community volunteer work.
In Israel, the group, which included children of Canadian military families stationed in Belgium as well as in Afghanistan, first toured Jerusalem, and then headed south to Latrun, Be’er Sheva and the Yatir forest and water reservoir. They also visited other JNF projects in the area. They rode camels in Kfar Nokdim, where they spent the night.
During their visit, the group climbed Massada, then visited Ein Gedi en route to Tel Aviv.
In Tel Aviv, they met with the Canadian ambassador at the embassy and spent the weekend enjoying the city. They were also present at the inauguration of the nearby Canadian Military Park and stopped in Haifa before flying back to Canada.
“This was one of the most useful and beneficial projects that I have ever been associated with,” says businessman and philanthropist Arnold Frieman, a Holocaust survivor and a veteran of Israel’s War of Independence, who was the honoree at the 2007 JNF Negev Gala where this project was initiated. “This provides non-Jewish Canadians the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Israel and see what Israel is doing, what we stand for and what we are trying to accomplish.”
Brine says this first trip took about a year to organize. She is looking forward to having a second group of Canadian teens from military families visit Israel within the next two years.