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Blacks, Jews Come Together to Plant Trees for Coretta King

Israel is dedicating part of a forest in the Galilee to the memory of Coretta Scott King.

Americans and Israelis, Jews and blacks are replanting a section of the Biriya Forest that was destroyed by Hezbollah rockets during last summer’s conflict.

Sallai Meridor, Israel’s U.S. ambassador, and U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Artur Davis (D-Ala.), both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, attended the ceremonial planting of cherry trees on a drizzly morning April 26 near the entrance of the Faith Tabernacle United Holy Church.

Hastings said the initiative not only showcased the friendship between Israel and the United States but also between blacks and Jews, citing the groups’ long-held bonds over “persecution and perseverance.”

“Our similar narrative and values have promoted a longstanding relationship of mutual empathy and support,” Hastings said, citing black newspapers’ early denouncement of Nazism and Jewish support in founding the NAACP.

Other organizations that sent representatives to the Capitol Hill neighborhood included the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish National Fund, which is collecting donations for the forest on its Web site, www.jnf.org/king.

“This is an important step in continuing relations,” agreed Alicia Simmons, congressional outreach director at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. “The Earth is globally very turbulent, so for these two communities to come together to continue a bond created years ago is phenomenal and very much needed during today’s times.”

The Rev. James Love Sr. of Faith Tabernacle said he was “honored and proud and thank the nation of Israel for planting a tree in memory of Coretta Scott King.”

Speakers lauded King, late widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as a social activist, proponent of peace and friend to Israel.

Israel already has a forest named for the Rev. King in southern Galilee sponsored by JNF. One new tree has been planted each year after his assassination in 1968, bringing the current number to 39. The Coretta Scott King Forest is planned to hold at least 10,000.

“Washington has his monument and Lincoln his memorial, but Coretta Scott King’s name will forever grace a forest of living trees,” said Hadar Susskind, Washington director of JCPA. “Like both Dr. and Mrs. King, these trees will draw people to them. And like the King family these trees will be both strong and inspiring, with their roots firmly planted in the ground and their branches soaring skyward.”

Meridor said the Kings’ legacy “made the world a better place, and we think made all of us better human beings.

“We are continuing a legacy of repairing damages of war and keeping alive the hope for peace,” he added.

Rabbi Eric Lankin, chief of institutional advancement and education at the Jewish National Fund, estimated that 2 million tress were destroyed in the Galilee during last summer’s war.

JNF launched a $400 million campaign to rebuild and reforest after the war. It will encourage U.S. religious congregations to plant matching trees in Mrs. King’s memory as well.

“African-American churches and institutions and Jewish community synagogues and institutions will work together to plant as many trees as possible,” Lankin said.

The message also was one of reforestation and cultivating the environment derived from the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

“Trees improve both the environment and the social aspect of neighborhoods,” said Jared Liu, director of programs at Maryland-based Alliance for Community Trees, one of the organizations sponsoring the Coretta Scott King Forest Campaign.

Reforestation equals “concern for the social welfare of each of the members of society,” he said.

“It is a symbol of hope and glory that survives for generations,” added Mark Buscaino, executive director of Washington-based Casey Trees Endowment Fund.

Buscaino called for trees to be planted near all churches and synagogues.

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