December 30th 2013
Not far from the Ein Kerem neighborhood in the southern part of Jerusalem is a forest and a memorial dedicated to the memory of America’s 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, was admired by ordinary Israeli citizens for his open support of the young country.
In 1960, JFK said, “Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.” Additionally, JFK was the first American president to sell desperately needed arms to Israel.
In 1964, one year after his assassination, the Kennedy Peace Forest was inaugurated by the Jewish National Fund. By 1966, 1.5 million trees were planted, each one by hand. Additional trees were eventually planted in memory of Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, who all died tragically young. Throughout the forest, hiking trails and picnic areas were have been built for the enjoyment of visitors. If you visit during the school year, you’re likely to share the site with a group of Israeli school children who tour the site on official school field trips after they’ve learned about President Kennedy’s support of Israel.
In 1966, the Kennedy Memorial, known as Yad Kennedy, whose funding came from the American Jewish community, was inaugurated. Its distinctive shape – round on the bottom and flat on the top – resembles a tree that was cut down, representing life cut down in its prime. Inside the simple yet dramatic structure is a circular stone room with an eternal light. Surrounding the round building are 51 bowed columns, representing the 50 United States and Washington DC. As you walk around the memorial, you’ll see that each column displays a state seal.
The Kennedy Memorial rests on a wide, flat plaza high above the forest. While standing on the plaza, enjoy the dramatic perspective of the surrounding forest, with fully mature 50-year-old trees. Just off the parking lot is the Kennedy Family Planting Circle, where dozens of other trees were planted by members of the extended Kennedy family, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.