The Tu Bishvat celebration of the Jewish new year for trees – or more accurately fruit tithing – has come at the right time this year, with trees around Israel in need of some good cheer, given the battering they are taking in the current stormy weather.
Livnot U’Lehibanot, a Jewish identity educational program based in Safed, is seeking to do just that, by promoting celebrations of Tu Bishvat as a holiday that can promote Jewish spirituality and environmentalism – as well as bring Jewish people together, since there are no religious restrictions like those on Shabbat and major Jewish holidays.
The organization is championing the Tu Bishvat seder service, developed by the mystics of Safed in the 16th century, as the signature holiday event for people to coalesce around and draw meaning from.
Like the Passover Seder, the Tu Bishvat Seder combines excerpts from the Bible, the Talmud and Jewish liturgy, interspersed with the drinking of four cups of wine and the consumption of different symbolic foods, in Tu Bishvat’s case, primarily fruits.
In 2015, Livnot U’Lehibanot, based in Safed, helped facilitate more than 100 seder ceremonies in 65 cities and 10 different countries around the world. For 2016, the organization was hoping to assist with more than 1,000 seders on Sunday night, through its partnerships with the Hazon Jewish environmentalism group, along with the Kevah educational organization, several Jewish Federations, the Hillel Jewish student organization, Moishe Houses, the OU and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
Livnot has created an online Tu Bishvat companion suggesting different topics of study related to the celebration, songs and other relevant material.
“Tu Bishvat encompasses the elements that are essential to every Israel experience: Jewish environmental roots, meeting with texts, learning meaning from the world around us, spirituality grounded in this world and, of course, song,” said Meir Palatial Livnot U’Lehibanot’s program director.
Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein of the Tzohar rabbinical association explained that Tu Bishvat’s connection to the biblical requirement to tithe fruit for the priestly casts and the poor connects between the nature and social values, between ethics and aesthetics.
“Tu Bishvat teaches us not just to enjoy nature and marvel at its beauty, but to connect and relate nature to our obligations to society, to translate the beauty that we see to our responsibility for giving and thinking about the other,” Feuerstein said.
Separately, a campaign was launched to plant fruit trees in Israel in memory of Ezra Schwartz, an American yeshiva student who was killed in a terrorist attack in the Gush Etzion region in November last year.
The Schwartz family, from Massachusetts, came to Israel recently to begin planting a new vineyard and olive grove in the Gush Etzion area, and launched the online campaign on Sunday, to coincide with Tu Bishvat, for donors to purchase more trees and vines to complete the project.
Also on Sunday, Bayit Yehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett visited the Tekoa settlement in the Gush Etzion region on Sunday morning to plant a tree in the town together with party colleague Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli.
Speaking in reference to the recent wave of Palestinian violence, Shaked said that the correct response is to show that “the spirit of the Jewish people will not be broken and that out of great disaster we will continue to plant and to grow, to develop the settlement project in the beloved Land of Israel.”
The Central Bureau of Statistics released new figures showing widespread usage of public parks and nature reserves, especially amongst Israeli youth.
According to a poll conducted by the CBS between Jan 2014 and April 2015, 70 percent of Israelis visited a city park last year, and 71% visited forests, nature reserves and national parks.
According to the study, more Jews than Arabs visited publicly available green spaces, with 73% of Jewish citizens visiting city parks, compared to 56% of Arab citizens; 73% of the Jewish population visited nature reserves, compared to 60% of the Arab population.
The CBS also released data on tree planting during the last year, although the numbers were greatly reduced from previous years due to shmita, the Jewish sabbatical year observed during the past Jewish calendar year which lasted until Rosh Hashana in September.
In 2015, 66.7 hectares of land were planted with citrus trees, compared to 5,000 hectares in 2014; 348 hectares of forest trees were planted in the Jewish calendar year corresponding to 2015, compared to 649 hectares in 2014.