Visit to Israel Celebrates Life, Love and a 50th Birthday
by June Glazer
Most people who donate to Jewish National Fund (JNF) for tree planting in Israel do so in honor or in memory of loved ones. So, too, with Ron Werner, board president of JNF’s Mountain States region, who, on his own and with his family, has planted more than 1,500 trees. However, his most recent donation of an additional 1,000 trees, together with his partner, Jim Hering, may be a rare instance when those loved ones are canine. In late May, Werner and Hering donated a grove in remembrance of their three beloved rescue dogs, Shimshon (Sam), Zacharaya (Zach) and Lucy.
“The idea came to me was while I was planning a trip to Israel to celebrate my 50th birthday,” said Werner, a Denver and Palm Springs resident who co-owns with Hering the Colorado-based home furnishings retailer and design source HW Home, Inc. “I was sitting in a JNF meeting where we were talking about trees and it got me thinking.”
“The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted the trees to memorialize our dogs, who were like family members to Jim and me,” said Werner, who hopes his and Hering’s gift sets an example for others who have beloved animals. “Animals are great companions. They’re loyal and they love unconditionally. Ours gave us great joy. Why not have people remember their pets in this way?”
Frequent visitors to Israel, he and Hering planned a two-week birthday trip bringing with them four friends. One of the activities was a tree-planting ceremony at the Harvey Hertz-JNF Ceremonial Tree Planting Center, located in the biblical nature reserve Neot Kedumim, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In a ceremonial planting, saplings—in Werner’s case six baby oak trees—were planted by the group. After about a week, they’ll be transplanted to American Independence Park where JNF, in partnership with its Israeli counterpart Keren Kayemet LeIsrael, maintains its groves.
I wanted our friends to also connect with the land by planting trees with their own hands. I think that for people who experience Israel for the first time, as our friends did, this is something very powerful and important to do.”
The planting ceremony, on a day when Israel also hosted Pope Francis, came on the heels of a stop by the group at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the world center for Holocaust remembrance, documentation, research and education. The juxtaposition of genocide with planting and rebirth was no coincidence, Werner said.
“It’s not by accident that we left Yad VaShem and went to plant trees. To learn about the death and tragedy that befell the Jewish people, then to walk out of that [museum] building and look out over a thriving, flourishing Jerusalem—it really drives home the importance of Israel. Then, to physically plant a tree in the ground and be part of that Israel, it’s like going from death to renewal.”
Werner and Hering’s friends were deeply moved. “Understanding that the Holocaust happened so recently in history was shocking to me,” said Vance Bray of Denver, who is not Jewish. “That something of this magnitude could have taken place with the knowledge of the world, including that of my own country, is hard to accept.”
The tree planting was a perfect example of why Ron and Jim love Israel so much,” said Joel Milliken of Los Angeles. “It all tracks back to the connection they feel with the history, the land and the people there. It was a huge learning experience for me. I definitely plan on visiting Israel again.”