Tu Bishvat in Rishon LeZion from the beginning of the 20th century (ca. 1910).
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE FOLKLORE RESEARCH CENTER HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM)
Although the tradition of planting trees on the Tu Bishvat holiday would appear to be quintessentially Israeli, it appears that it has its origins much farther afield.
Dr. Hezi Amiur, curator of the Israel Collection at the National Library of Israel, says that as with other Jewish holidays, the Zionist pioneers sought to inject a Zionist theme into significant days in the Jewish calendar.
He notes that the holiday known as the new year for trees has little ceremonial content, although the Kabbalistic practice of a Seder with fruit and wine has increased.
For Tu Bishvat, says Amiur, the new Zionist settlement in the Land of Israel came up with the idea of reconnecting to the land by borrowing from Arbor Day in the US, founded in 1872 and held on the last Friday every April.
The idea was advanced by a Hebrew teacher from Jerusalem, Haim Leib Zuta, and began to take root in around 1910.
One Tu Bishvat poster from the era held by the National Library shows children harvesting carobs, and collecting them together with pomegranates and other fruits grown in Israel.
Other posters from the period, advertise tree-planting events, Tu Bishvat processions and dances as part of festivities which were established to give the festival a Zionist makeover.
“Hebrew culture and the Zionist movement adopted Tu Bishvat as a time that symbolizes the return to nature, settlement and Hebrew-language education,” says Amiur.
“New content was poured into the new year for trees, designed to strengthen the ties of children youth and new immigrants to nature in Israel and to the values of settlement and agriculture, and to harness veteran pioneers to these values as well.”