Each year, in the winter, over a million Israelis take part in tree-planting activities across the nation, and last week was no exception when the country celebrated ‘Tu BiShvat’ – a joyful festival that it’s hard not to enjoy.
Tu Bisvhat, in Hebrew, translates as the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat (this year, it began on 10th February) but is also known widely as Israel’s “New Year for Trees.”
The roots of the holiday can be traced back several centuries…indeed, academics argue that the original Tu BiSh’vat was an agricultural festival, celebrated to welcome spring. However, by the beginning of the 20th Century, it took on a practical meaning whenthe Jewish National Fund began putting aside a day each year where people were encouraged to plant eucalyptus trees. Why? Well, partly as a means of reforesting the land, but also to help prevent malaria in the Hula Valley!
Today, ecological organisations both in Israel and abroad have adopted the holiday, and look upon it as an opportunity promote environmental awareness. They urge us all to reconnect, physically, with the earth and take a moment to remember how interdependent we are with a thriving planet. And they are right, after all, because whilst we can live without social media, we can’t live without clean water and oxygen that trees give us.
Jewish tradition also reminds us this is the day is when the trees begin to bloom again in the land of Israel. And whilst this is a truly beautiful sight, it’s also an emotionally uplifting experience. It is a time to remind ourselves not to take life for granted, but to be hopeful. For as we plant these tiny saplings, we can remind ourselves that the cold, dark winter will soon be over and that beautiful spring and glorious summer lies ahead.
Not surprisingly then, last week both adults and kids alike hunted out their shovels and – from the Arava desert to the Golan Heights – did some planting. And amongst thousands of tree-planting events this year, the Jewish National Fund organised a group event (for Jews and non-Jews alike) at Neot Kedumim.
Situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this beautiful reserve isn’t just a ‘garden’ showing various plants, but also a place to experience life as those in Biblical times did. All year round, Not Kedumim gives visitors the chance to live the way their forefathers did (both Jewish and Christian). Activities include making olive oil, picking the fruits of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, herding sheep and goats, and drawing water from an ancient cistern.
Last week, however, visitors devoted themselves to tree-planting. And Tu BiShvat is about more than hard labour – there’s song singing, a blessing over the wine then (as is customary) partaking of fruits and nuts – in particular, dates, figs, olives and apricots, and almonds. Finally, the group had time to wander around the area and to take a moment to gaze at the beautiful pink and white blossom on the almonds almond trees. As an old Israeli song goes…
“The almond tree is blossoming; a golden sun is glowing...Birds sing out in joyous glee; from every roof and every tree.”
Happy National Tree Day!