Tu Bishvat – the holiday of communal entrepreneurship

The Seven Species, whose fruits are traditionally eaten on Tu Bishvat (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Seven Species, whose fruits are traditionally eaten on Tu Bishvat
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Within walking distance of my home in central Beersheba, Tu Bishvat is celebrated year-round. A thriving community garden attracts dozens of local families for urban farming and environmental education activities each week. This project is certainly connected to agriculture, but it is no less connected to the surrounding residents who maintain it. The garden has flourished over the years despite economic and bureaucratic difficulties due to caring and involved residents.
Tu Bishvat is best known as a holiday relating to the environment. However, we must not forget that a vital aspect of caring for the environment is the existence of a strong and involved civil society. In recent years we have seen the encouraging growth of grassroots community initiatives across Israeli cities, which improve the quality of life for residents and increase their sense of belonging to their city.
Without the perseverance and hard work of social activists and urban communities, these initiatives would not survive the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. Support from the government and/or local authorities for community-led initiatives would ensure their continuation and allow more people to get involved.
Slowly, local authorities are beginning to understand the strong connection between empowered urban communities and a dynamic, attractive city, and the resulting need to nurture and strengthen initiatives that rise from the field. For example, Beersheba and Haifa support many community initiatives – from edible forests, cultural events that appeal to diverse audiences, to new education initiatives and even a community-run carpentry studio.
Just recently, a collaboration between the Municipality of Haifa, The Housing Ministry, two real estate development companies (Beita and Africa-Israel) and Eretz-Ir established a new model for social urban renewal. Based in Kiryat Eliezer, Haifa, the project will establish 200 apartments, public and commercial space.
Moreover, it will integrate educational programs, a student village, and a community network for families into this process. This is significant as it is the first time an Israeli municipality recognizes that urban renewal cannot exist only through physical structures, but must also include investment in the community.
I will conclude with a quote from Pirkei Avot. The Mishna asks, “One whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, what is he comparable to? To a tree with many branches and few roots; a storm comes and uproots it, and turns it on its face. But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches, whom all the storms in the world cannot budge from its place.”
In this spirit, we will continue to work tirelessly for social change grounded in social action and initiatives that grow, grassroots, from dedicated residents, and from empowered communities.

The writer is CEO of Eretz-Ir, a nonprofit focused on promoting urban communities throughout Israel.