Tu Bishvat is KKL-JNF's special holiday, and it is also the anniversary of the founding of Israel's first Knesset. Every year, Knesset members participate in a tree planting ceremony somewhere in Israel. This year, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin joined Deputy Minister Ayub Kara and MKs Eitan Cabel, Ofir Akunis and Raleb Majadele to plant trees near the Druze village of Usafiya in the Carmel forest, in the presence of KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler and local political and religious leaders.
Speaking at the ceremony before the tree planting, Knesset Speaker Rivlin noted that the Jewish tradition of planting trees is a way of expressing our belief that a person must do more in life than to just be concerned with daily survival: "It is written in Midrash Kohelet that God does not reveal the day of death to human beings because if He did, people would neither build nor plant, they would only do what needs to be done for immediate gratification. The day of one's death is hidden from a person so that he will plan for the future, and either that person or others will benefit from his actions.
"Tu Bishvat is KKL-JNF's holiday, and also the anniversary of the Knesset, which was founded 62 years ago. Planting is a sacred and moral duty that is diametrically opposed to death. It symbolizes continuity and eternity. Everyone, all of Israel's ethnicities, must participate in tree planting. This year, death and planting are sadly intertwined. We are planting in the place where death and bereavement struck. Our symbolic act of planting in the charred earth is an expression of our belief in life. A person who plants trees rejects bitterness and despair. After the terrible price we paid as a result of the Carmel forest fire, we are beginning the long journey towards restoring the Carmel. May this Tu Bishvat bring happiness to all of Israel, and next year may we see a vibrant, blossoming Carmel. May we no longer know suffering that is caused by either man or nature."
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler described planting trees in Israel as an expression of our ties to the land and our hope for a better future: "Over a million people are planting trees today throughout the country, and we are reminded just how important trees are for our existence. Trees provide us with shade and oxygen, and they are a cure for global warming.
"KKL-JNF will be 110 years old in just a few months, and during that period, we have planted 240,000,000 trees. Today we are planting one million more. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the KKL-JNF workers, who plant trees all year long, not just on Tu Bishvat. Together with our Druze hosts, we have all experienced a terrible trauma this year. It was as if our covenant with nature was broken. KKL-JNF is committed to doing whatever is necessary to make the Carmel green again. I wish all of Israel a happy Tu Bishvat, the holiday when everyone, young and old, are outdoors in nature. Together, we will keep Israel beautiful and green."
Sheikh Muafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community, blessed the
occasion and his words moved the entire audience: "The Carmel tragedy took us all by surprise. We lost 44 people who were the salt of the earth, they were Israel's best. On behalf of my community, I would like to express my condolences to the bereaved families.
"The Carmel has always been home to prophets. For tens and hundreds of years, the Carmel was cared for by our ancestors. We follow in their footsteps and continue to protect this natural treasure. Trees are one of the Creator's greatest wonders. They are very precious, and planting them is a most admirable thing to do. In the sacred books of all the world's religions, the Holy One, blessed be He, is praised for having created the world in a way that includes trees. He created trees for eating, for shade and for industry. He blessed the trees and it is our task to care for them.
"May it be His will that we celebrate Tu Bishvat in future years with happier hearts, in a green and flourishing Carmel. Happy Tu Bishvat to all of Israel!"
Mr. Vegia Kayouf, head of the Usafiya Regional Council, also noted the spiritual significance of tree planting: "In both the Druze and Jewish mystical traditions, when a person dies, their soul enters a new body. Planting trees today in the Carmel after the loss of life and the destruction that took place in this forest is similar. The Carmel was green, and it will always be green. The need for restoration also brings new opportunities.
"People, like trees, must have strong roots; otherwise, the strong winds will cause them to fall. There has always been a bond between man and the earth, our elders will confirm this. We are here today to define our future and to learn from the present, and to give the Knesset members an opportunity to learn about our community, a community that can never be separated from its surroundings, the Carmel.
"The fire taught us that there is no such thing as municipal borders. It makes no
difference where the fire begins; no one knows where it will stop. The Carmel forest fire did not distinguish between Usafiya and Beit Oren. We need to support and help each other, and to be organized in a way that will help prevent future fires. On behalf of all the residents of Usafiya and the entire region, I would like to thank the Knesset speaker, Mr. Reuven Rivlin, and KKL-JNF, for deciding to hold the Knesset's traditional Tu Bishvat tree planting ceremony in Usafiya." Mr. Kayouf also thanked the schoolchildren's choir that entertained the audience with songs in Hebrew and Arabic.
Carmel Sela, head of the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, was honored with reading the Planters' Prayer. He noted that this year especially, "Tu Bishvat is a unique holiday, a time when we remember that even after the blackest of fires, the color green will return and renewal will take place. We will learn what we must from this tragedy, and look forward to the future.
Efi Stenzler presented Reuven Rivlin with a certificate attesting to the fact that he planted the first tree in the Carmel after the fire. Mr. Rivlin planted the tree sapling together with his grandson, who lives on an agricultural settlement and was clearly very familiar with how to use a hoe. After planting trees near the site where the ceremony was held, the dignitaries proceeded to the burnt forest, where they planted more trees. There could be no doubt that together with the sense of immense loss, life would once again be reborn out of the ashes of the terrible inferno that raged here just a few weeks ago.
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