(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
The Tu Bishvat tradition of planting trees was initiated by the writer, researcher and historian Zeev Yavetz, who arrived in the Land of Israel in 1887 and became Principal of the Zichron Yaakov School. When the moshava was founded, educators in the Land of Israel felt a need to renew Jewish settlement in the country by planting trees. In 1892, on Tu BiShvat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat), Yavetz went out to plant trees in Zichron Yaakov with his pupils, and a new tradition was born: on this day of the year Israeli children go out to plant trees. The Teachers Union and KKL-JNF formalized the custom in 1908, and provided it with an extra educational dimension. In this way children were given the opportunity to play an active role in the development of the Land of Israel and the care of its landscape.
With the dawn of Jewish agricultural settlement in Israel, lands were purchased throughout the country to promote the development of Jewish farming. It was during this period that the expression “redeeming lands” was coined, and working the land was considered a great virtue. The custom of planting trees at Tu BiShvat appeared at this time: in 1904 Professor Otto Warburg proposed establishing a Zionist Fund for the purpose of planting olive trees on lands redeemed by KKL-JNF. That same year Binyamin Zeev Herzl died, and it was decided that the “Olive Fund” should be used to plant a forest that would be named after him. Planting began in 1908 on KKL-JNF land in Ben Shemen, at the site known today as Herzl Forest.
In 1905, the Land of Israel Teachers Union declared Tu BiShvat a tree-planting festival in all schools throughout the country. Large crowds turned out to attend the planting ceremonies, which were also reported in Jewish communities abroad. And so began this wonderful Israeli tree-planting enterprise that continues to be an annual tradition today.
The tree-planting tradition that was renewed and fostered by KKL-JNF has become the main event that characterizes Tu Bishvat celebrations in Israel. Participation in tree-planting ceremonies strengthens people’s connection to the land and makes them partners in the effort to conserve the environment. Every year on Tu Bishvat thousands of people take part in the festive plantings organized by KKL-JNF all over the country. Large numbers of saplings are planted in KKL-JNF forests and woodlands in the course of the holiday; with time they will grow and develop into trees that will provide fresh green areas for Israel’s residents and help to combat global warming and conserve the environment.