The new year of whose trees?

It all begins with Tu Bishvat and the Seven Species, and eventually permeates all levels of our life and society.

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)
Pink and white almond blossoms, just beginning to peek out of their buds, herald the first hint of spring and the upcoming festival of Tu Bishvat.
Alongside the floral extravaganza, Tu Bishvat holds deeper agricultural and religious significance and is also known as the New Year for Trees. The festival is customarily celebrated by planting new trees and eating fruit of the biblical Seven Species indigenous to the Land of Israel – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
Unless you work in an Israeli flour mill, you probably don’t have access to wheat or barley grains in their raw forms, so you don’t know what is written on the original packaging under “country of origin.” In most cases it will be “USA,” since over 95% of grains consumed in Israel are imported, primarily from America.
To check the country of origin of most of the other Seven Species – grapes (raisins), figs, dates etc. – is not as difficult, as it is clearly listed on the packaging when you purchase them in the store. Invariably, it says “Turkey.” In fact, so much of the fruit that we consume over this festival is from Izmir, Anatolia and Germencik that it has been suggested we change the name of the festival to “Turkishvat.”
SO I ask myself, why is this so? It is not because we lack the seeds or the climate for these grains and fruit; they are, after all, indigenous to Israel. The Volcani Center in Rishon Lezion has a repository of heirloom and new, genetically modified seeds for them all. It is not because we lack water or agricultural technology to grow them. Israel is a world leader in agricultural technology and water desalination.
We are simply lacking the correct values! Israel, for better or for worse, has adopted the American capitalistic system of economy. In this system, typified by monopolization, the only thing that counts is the bottom line, which must be maximized and becomes an end in itself.
This has resulted in our modern “disposable society.” When last did you have a TV or microwave fixed? It is just not done anymore, because the bottom line says that to replace entirely is cheaper than to fix. Nobody bothers to ask where the millions of tons of old, dead microwaves, computers and TVs end up. They end up in third-world African countries, such as Ghana, destroying the natural resources and turning these countries into toxic landfills.
And it doesn’t end with appliances. People, employees, have also become disposable, as long as the bottom line says it has to be so.
This affects us on a national level, when the bottom line dictates that the hi-tech industry in Israel is the only one really worth investing in. Other industries, such as agriculture, get relegated. Unless you have a new, groundbreaking agricultural technology start-up company, anything else to do with agriculture does not even feature. Farming in Israel is a dying profession.
It would be nice if we could blame greedy tycoons for all our society’s ills, but we are equally to blame. As long as the only thing that matters to us as consumers is the “lowest price,” we are playing the same game as the tycoons, but on the other end of the scale.
When you have capitalism without values, when the only thing that matters is the bottom line and the lowest price, you lose your sense of perspective. What about the self-sufficiency of the country? In an economy that practically eradicates any local agriculture, relying almost totally on imports for the most basic foodstuffs, such as grains; when the only agriculture worth growing is specialized tangerines for export to Europe, because the bottom line dictates it, you effectively reduce the resilience of your country and condemn it to dependence on imports for even the most basic food, such as bread. In a crisis, a country cannot survive on specialized tangerines.
On a less extreme level, what about symbols of national pride? Isn’t a symbol like the Seven Species worth investing in, to ensure that we are the world’s best in growing them? Why should Turkey be the world’s largest exporter of dried fruit? What do they have that Israel doesn’t? Israel is not short on brains. We can figure out how to market dried fruit effectively and still make a profit, as good as, even better than, specialized tangerines.
Do we want a society with values, or are we only interested in the bottom line? It all begins with Tu Bishvat and the Seven Species, and eventually permeates all levels of our life and society. What we need is capitalism with values!
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking, and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health, nutrition and authentic Jewish bread.