School students and politicians alike are taking to the country’s fields and curbsides to plant new seedlings this Tu Bishvat, the Jewish ecological awareness day that celebrates a new year for trees.
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Around the country already on Wednesday, the country’s children and adults began taking part in the annual tradition of planting trees – an activity that would continue throughout the day and on Thursday by means of various organizations.
Also in honor of the holiday, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel will dedicate a new Knesset nature path, while a private citizen has taken it upon himself to launch a new prayer for the preservation of the environment.
“Tu Bishvat and this planting are a deep expression of hope and faith,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a planting in the Jerusalem Forest on Wednesday. “Here you are not planting a tree for the next two days or even two years, but for decades.”
Netanyahu was participating in a planting ceremony at the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund Grove of Nations, with KKLJNF chairman Effi Stenzler, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Chinese and Argentinian representatives and children from the Henrietta Szold School in Jerusalem – the prime minister’s alma mater.
Recalling the days when he and his father used to plant trees not far from the school, Netanyahu told the students how they would carefully prepare the soil and water the shoots for the trees to grow properly.
“We believe in the future of our country. We are a link in the chain of generations,” the prime minister said. “We returned to our country in order to stay here and strike root in the land, and this we are doing not just in planting trees, but in building the country – in Jerusalem, and in the South, North and Center.”
Also on Wednesday, the organization Karov Lalev – which aims to bring together religious and secular communities – brought about 150 potted fruit trees to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for families to enjoy throughout the Tu Bishvat holiday.
Hundreds of students from both religious and secular schools will come on Thursday morning to hang their wishes on the trees, following a special ceremony, the organization said.
“Holidays are an excellent opportunity to revive the idea that in the end we are one people with one tradition,” said Karov Lalev chairman Netanel Siman-Tov. “Thousands of families who are meeting this week, for a joint Tu Bishvat, remind everyone that it is most natural to celebrate our roots together.”
On Thursday, Dizengoff Center is inviting Tel Aviv residents to contribute to urban nature as well, by planting trees on the roof of the center’s shopping mall, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, in the capital, SPNI alongside Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will inaugurate the “Knesset Trail,” which will wind its way from the bronze Knesset menorah through nature and heritage sites around the parliament’s perimeter.
The inauguration will occur on Thursday in honor of Tu Bishvat and the 65th and 60th anniversaries of the Knesset and SPNI, respectively, the organization said.
“The Knesset Trail will expose travelers not only to what is happening inside the Knesset building, but also to the way in which it has become integrated into the environment, and is a home to a variety of protected flora and fauna, unique to Israel and Jerusalem,” Edelstein said.
The new trail is an easy walking path that will pass through sites such as SPNI’s Jerusalem Bird Observatory, the Japanese Garden and the Wohl Rose Park.
Due to the circular nature of the path, visitors will be able to start at any point on the trail and follow the white-blue-white markers, SPNI said.
“Understanding urban nature in the city, its cultivation and its judicious management, will ensure that residents greatly benefit from what the city has to offer,” said Amir Balaban, SPNI’s coordinator for urban nature.
Aiming to create a similar awareness he felt was sorely lacking in Jewish liturgy, Jerusalem resident Richard Shavei-Tzion issued a “Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment” – which he said will be recited internationally this Tu Bishvat.
“As someone with a deep concern for our unique environment and the belief that as human beings, and Jews, we have a responsibility to confront this issue both spiritually and practically, I was more than surprised to find that despite some serious research I could not find a Jewish prayer that specifically addresses this huge modern phenomenon,” said Shavei-Tzion, a South African-born accountant with a passion for music and nature.
“Although I am not a learned scholar I decided to write one for myself.”
Following months of work, in collaboration with a group of rabbis and scholars, he completed the prayer a few months ago, which first and foremost asks that the “life giver of the worlds” protect the earth and its fruits for the benefit of generations to come.
Noticing a lack of environmental and conservational awareness among many in the religious community, Shavei-Tzion said he set out to draft a prayer that could inspire the religious and secular alike.
He distributed the prayer among his acquaintances, after which he said he was “amazed by the response and ripple effect,” finding the prayer recited in synagogues, at the Western Wall and at the Knesset without his prior knowledge.
Many congregations in Israel, England, America and Australia have included the prayer in this past Shabbat’s services or plan to do so in their Tu Bishvat liturgy, he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“Instill in us the humility and insight to appreciate our planet’s fragile beauty,” a portion of the three-paragraph prayer reads. “May we rejoice in our unique and extraordinary environment, enhance it and bequeath it, secure, to future generations.”
It is Shavei-Tzion’s hope that the prayer will inspire more people to take environmental action.
“When I started this prayer and I decided to send it to some people, I said that if the prayer can cause just one person to not throw out one nylon bag, deinu [enough],” he told the Post.
“But hopefully, it will put people in the mindset where they see some kind of spiritual value to preservation and conservation, beyond the physical reasons for doing it – some kind of spiritual inspiration to make a better world.”