It’s my kind of holiday. Short, sweet and environmentally friendly. It is also
the most quintessentially Israeli festival. Tu Bishvat, the New Year for
Of course Jews in the Diaspora mark it as well, but it is like
sowing seeds in the wrong soil. To truly appreciate the holiday, you have to be
here – see supermarkets boasting special sections of dried fruits; know a
schoolchild excited about going on a tree-planting trip; and hear songs about
trees and flowers on the radio. Perhaps above all, you need to pass fragrant
almond blossoms and automatically associate them with the coming of the
For some reason almond trees have come to symbolize the festival
in a nutshell.
They might not be one of the biblical Seven Species, but
the shkedia, as it is known around here, has a status almost rivaling that of
blossoming cherry trees in Japan.
No Jewish kid gets past kindergarten in
Israel without knowing the words to “Hashkedia porahat,” “The almond tree is
blossoming.” And, while Christmas can come and go without very much attention,
the Holiday for Trees (Hag ha’ilanot) is a big deal in the Jewish state –
uniting religious and secular.
An increasing number of Israelis now hold
a Tu Bishvat seder, in which fruit dishes are served and the four cups of wine
(reminiscent of the Passover seder) are a combination of red and
Viticulture is a developing field in Israel. Long gone are the
days when the country produced only sweet Kiddush wine for religious purposes.
Israeli wines are now winning awards and praise from top
The environment is a global growth industry. Israeli
R&D is famous worldwide for its contribution to water management,
alternative energy and agriculture.
Personal favorites are cherry
tomatoes and watermelons of a size that anyone can pick up with ease at their
supermarket (although what would an informal Israeli gathering be without
sharing cold chunks of avatiah and a bowl of seeds to spit out without
It seems there is no end to what the fertile imaginations
of scientists can come up with. An acquaintance of mine once shocked polite
company with a discussion on the sex life of an Iris; she was researching the
flower, hoping to develop a hardier strain. I have also met researchers working
hard on stopping flies and mosquitoes reproducing.
ISRAEL BEING Israel,
there is a political angle to everything. Foresters used to quip that the Green
Line derived its name partly from the trees planted along it. Ironically – given
the symbolism of the olive branch – there have often been clashes between
Palestinians and Jews during the olive-picking season.
Sadly, too, many
forest fires have been deliberately set as a form of lowgrade terrorism,
literally trying to destroy signs of Jewish roots.
environmental issues also create common ground: Few things can bring Israelis,
Palestinians and Jordanians together like the need to solve environmental
problems which do not recognize man-made borders.
Every year, political
parties choose to make a statement by where they hold their tree-planting
But no other parliament in the world marks the Jewish New
Year for Trees.
The Knesset actually celebrates its birthday on the
festival (which this year falls on February 8).
Nothing symbolizes the
relationship between the early state and the Diaspora as much as the blue box of
the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael–Jewish National Fund, known simply as hakufsa
Today, the organization specializes in thinking outside of the
box. It’s now possible to donate via the Web and funds go to a range of
environmental projects way beyond forestry and tree-planting.
expresses down-to-earth Zionism. It highlights the link of the Jewish religion
and people to their homeland. Strangely, while environmentalism is close to
becoming a new world religion, Zionism is out of fashion.
Tu Bishvat is
the perfect opportunity for pointing out to the younger generation that it’s
fine to be proud of your roots, your homeland and the unique nature of
Biodiversity is an environmental buzzword, but in politically
correct circles, peoples are expected to display a certain oneness.
to imagine a world in which all countries looked the same with identical flora
and fauna and people all dressed alike and doing exactly the same things.
Where’s the color? Where’s the flavor? Where’s the fragrance? The New Year for
Trees heralding spring and rejuvenation is the time to dare to be different – to
be ourselves and openly display a love of the land.
It is important to
get our hands dirty and dig back into the past, while looking to the
The need for affordable housing obviously creates a conflict with
environmental interests of preserving green areas – and even non-green areas,
like sand dunes.
Just as I wouldn’t want to see housing projects
springing up everywhere, care should be taken not to overly interfere with the
natural rhythm of life.
We might be proud of having made the desert
bloom, but future generations could look on the destruction of the Samar sand
dunes in the South the way we now see the draining of the Hula swamps in the
North – a mistake that can never be completely rectified.
attempts at preserving the Dead Sea are admirable, grandiose canal projects
linking the Red or Mediterranean could end up throwing out the proverbial baby
with the fresh seawater. It is not yet clear what effect the imported water
would have on the unique composition of the Dead Sea.
has its drawbacks.
Building a hotel in the middle of the wilderness is
counterproductive, however in tune with nature it looks.
Tu Bishvat is a
great time to take a break from the hustle and bustle of modern living, enjoy
simple pleasures, and make a New Year resolution to turn over a new leaf. Keep
in mind, the best things in life are tree.The writer is editor of The
International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]