The delegations’ itinerary included visits to various sites in Jerusalem, to the Gaza border and a series of meetings.

The “King David Circle” delegation, which includes honored guests of the JNF Canada Negev Dinner along with past presidents of the organization, arrived in Israel for a week of tours and meetings. During their visit, participants got to enjoy Israel’s unique scenery and sites, and to familiarize themselves with various KKL-JNF projects, some of which were carried out with the support of JNF Canada. They also met with dignitaries and various Israeli officials.

“Our main focus is on the question as to what we, as Canadians, can do for Israel,” said incoming JNF Canada President Wendy Eidinger Spatzner, who is from Montreal. “The projects that we promote in Israel connect us to the people of Israel.”

Also participating in the delegation was Lance Davis, the new CEO of JNF Canada, who began his tenure just a few weeks ago. The visit to Israel was one of the first things he did as CEO, and it was not by chance. “Our goal is to better the lives of the residents of Israel and to strengthen the bond between Canadian Jewry and Israel,” he said. “Israel is at the core of our Jewish identity. The country’s strength and vitality makes us very proud.” Davis added that he sees KKL-JNF affiliates as ambassadors for the state of Israel. “It is important for us to spread knowledge about Israel and about its contribution to the world, to humanity, to the environment and to sustainability.”

The delegations’ itinerary included visits to various sites in Jerusalem, a visit to the Gaza border and to the Border Police base in Michmash. During their visit, a series of meetings and joint events with leading Israeli government and military officials were planned for the delegation, including a ceremony at Ammunition Hill marking the fiftieth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, with the participation of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a meeting with former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Moshe (“Bogie”) Ya’alon, an evening with the participation of former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, a conversation with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and an event hosted by the Canadian ambassador to Israel.

“Israel is always in our hearts and is a part of our souls,” said Stanley Plotnick from Montreal, who came to Israel together with his wife Barbara. “When we come to Israel, we don’t feel that we’re here for a visit, but rather that we came back home.” Plotnick was the guest of honor at the JNF Montreal 2002 Negev Dinner, where contributions were raised for developing Beersheva River Park, a beautiful green gem whose humble beginnings as a garbage-strewn dried out riverbed are unrecognizable today.

“It’s very important for me to be involved in what’s happening in Israel, and not just to come for tours. Our big challenge at the present time is to strengthen the younger generations’ connection to Israel.”

The visit to Israel’s capital city took place at a very exciting time, during the visit of United States President Donald Trump and the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification as a result of the Six Day War.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat greeted the Canadian delegation on the first day of their visit and shared his childhood memories with them:

“I was seven years old when the Six Day War broke out. I remember how I helped the soldiers fill up sacks of sand and how I hid under the bed while the city was being shelled. When the war was over, it was hard for me to understand why the adults were crying tears of joy. It was only years later, when I was serving as a young officer in the IDF paratroopers’ brigade, that I understood what a great victory that war was for us.”

Barkat described Jerusalem’s development at the present time to the visitors: “Culture is flourishing, the younger generation is becoming more connected to the city, the hi-tech industry is prospering and the city is in a constant state of construction. KKL-JNF and its friends throughout the world have made a significant contribution, which helps us a great deal. We are the generation who have the honor to live in a unified Jerusalem, so I hope you enjoy your visit to our city.”

“It’s always special and moving to be in Jerusalem,” said Barbara Farber from Ottawa. She was the guest of honor at the JNF Ottawa 2016 Negev Dinner that led to the establishment of the Misgav Regional Sports and Science Center for Jewish and Arab children in Northern Israel. The visit to Israel afforded her an opportunity to see the project’s progress firsthand.

Her husband Len Farber added: “Israel is the center of Jewish life. We have been involved in what happens in Israel for over forty years. Now, our son lives here, so for us it’s also a family visit.”

The members of the delegation visited the Western Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem, accompanied by Israel Police foreign press spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld, who reviewed the security situation for them. “Israel has to deal with many security threats, and Jerusalem is the most complex and most sensitive spot,” he said. “Any event at the Western Wall or the Temple Mount has the potential of inciting riots throughout the county.” He told them that only the night before, the Israeli Police arrested 21 people suspected of being involved in terror in Judea and Samaria.

“I visit Israel quite often, but this visit together with central donors is especially important,” said Frank Wilson, Chairman of the JNF Canada Board of Directors, who was also the organization’s past president. “It is important for us to bring Jews and non-Jews on trips to Israel. This is a wonderful country, and the spirit of Israel makes us young again.”

Arnie Unger remembered his first visit to Israel, which took place sixty years ago. “At the time, Israel was mainly a desert. Since then, every time I come here, I am excited to see how the country is growing and being constantly renewed.”

At the Western Wall, the delegation had an opportunity to offer personal prayers at the holy site, and also to be impressed by the latest historical discoveries at the Western Wall tunnels. Solly Eliav, CEO of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, who led the guided tour, said that the visit to this site “connects us to the history of the Jewish people. Every stone of the Western Wall is a part of our heart. Jews returned to Jerusalem from all over the world, and today we were even privileged to have guests from Canada,” he said with a smile.

During their visit to the Western Wall tunnels, the members of the delegation travelled in time back to ancient Jerusalem from the Second Temple period. They walked through underground passages, marched on ancient streets, and learned how our ancestors lived thousands of years ago. In this old, charming world, every stone has a story. A three-dimensional simulation presented a 360 degree view of the Temple Mount and the Temple, and the sophisticated animation demonstrated the building processes and destruction that this holy site experienced over history.

JNF Canada is partner to developing this site, and supported the archaeological dig that uncovered the central hall of the Western Wall tunnels, thanks to a contribution from Joseph and Wolf Lebovic of Toronto. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation surprised the participants with the first exposure of the recognition sign at the site honouring the donors. Upon completion of the project, an official inauguration ceremony will be held.

The most exciting finding in the hall is a section of the Western Wall that was discovered during the dig, including a huge stone from the Herodian era. When the work is completed, the site will be used for assemblies and educational activities for visitors to the tunnels. “There is no more awesome place in Israel or anywhere in the world for such a project,” said Lance Davis during the visit to the hall.

The members of the delegation also saw a short movie that simulated how the project will look when the work is completed, including an impressive model of the Temple and the steps that descend to the lower level.

From there, the group continued to the site where an archaeological dig is currently being conducted under the direction of Dr. Avi Solomon, who described some of the findings from the various periods that were uncovered at the site. The most important finding is a theatre-like structure which may have been used by the Sanhedrin before the destruction of the Second Temple.

“It is moving to see the wonders of Jerusalem,” said Joseph Wilder from Winnipeg, who joined the delegation together with his partner Phyllis Pollack. Wilder was the guest of honor at the JNF Manitoba/Saskatchewan 2014 Negev Gala, which enabled the construction of the Sderot water reservoir. His current trip to Israel included a visit to the reservoir and seeing its contribution to agriculture, settlement and the environment in the region.

“JNF Canada is a special and unique organization, with good people who support good causes,” said Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. “We are proud to be your partners in the development of the great hall. We are in a city that connects between celestial Jerusalem and earthly Jerusalem, along with connecting between residents of Canada and residents of Israel.”

The members of the group sat down for a meal in one of the impressive halls of the Western Wall tunnels. As Rabbi Rabinovitch said: “I don’t know how many of you had the privilege in the past to eat in a room that is 2,000 years old, but the main thing is that the food is fresh and was cooked today.”

The riveting day concluded with a meeting with former IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General (res.) Benny Gantz.

“Jerusalem is important and unique for us all, it is the very heart of the Jewish tradition and it binds the Jewish people together,” Gantz said. “We must ensure that Jerusalem will always remain strong, respectful and respecting. We fight for our security as citizens of Israel, and do so on behalf of the entire Jewish people. We can’t do it alone, and we are full of appreciation for your partnership, your support and your concern. This site belongs to you as much as it belongs to us.”

The members of the delegation shared their feelings and impressions.

“Words cannot describe what we feel, this is a dream that came true,” said Samuel Marcushamer from Edmonton.

“As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, this visit has special meaning for me. It is proof that am Yisrael hai – the people of Israel live,” said Faye Minuk from Toronto.

“I stand here today and ask myself what my father would have said if he knew that I would be privileged to be here in Jerusalem,” said Bethe Jarcaig from Windsor. She and her husband Sheldon will be the guests of honor at this year’s JNF Windsor Negev Dinner.

At the conclusion of the evening, the guests broke out in lively song and dance, their voices echoing in the ancient halls of the Western Wall tunnels and blending in with the glad voices of the crowds celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification in the streets above them.

“It is so important to visit Israel in order to really understand the importance of our work,” Lance Davis summed up. “There is no substitute for a visit to Israel, seeing the projects firsthand and meeting the people who benefit from them. And the fact is that what we do connects between people and creates partnerships to build Israel.”