Tu Bishvat: From tree planting to planet saving

HomeBiogas has developed a self-assembled backyard biogas system that turns kitchen waste and livestock manure into usable cooking gas and liquid fertilizer.

The Homebiogas unit turns organic waste into garden fertilizer and cooking gas. (photo credit: COURTESY HOMEBIOGAS)
The Homebiogas unit turns organic waste into garden fertilizer and cooking gas.
Growing up in Northern California and having a birthday that falls around Tu Bishvat, I’d often get the following birthday card: The front of the card featured a cartoon of an Israeli boy wearing a kova tembel (pioneer hat) and standing next to a small sapling. Above the picture it said “In honor of your birthday, a tree has been planted in Israel....” Then you’d open up the card and on the inside it said: “Your day to water it is Thursday.”
The most popular customs of the holiday of Tu Bishvat, the new year for the trees, are to plant trees and eat dried fruits. Although I suppose many in Israel will sample some kind of dried fruit this Tu Bishvat, for most of us adults, our tree-planting days stopped once we got out of elementary school.
Or so I thought.
AFTER I CAME on aliya some 20 years ago, my first job was at the Isracard credit card company in Tel Aviv. One January day, our supervisor announced that there was going to be a company tree planting event in honor of Tu Bishvat the following day, and she needed three volunteers from our department to go on the trip.
I looked around and saw that nobody had volunteered, so I didn’t either.
(One of the first rules you learn in Israel, mainly from the army, is to never volunteer for anything.) So, the boss picked three other people to go, and we all went back to work.
As luck would have it, it rained the next day and the tree planting trip was postponed indefinitely. Nobody was too disappointed. But then, some two months later, I walked into work a bit late one morning and was accosted by co-workers at the front door.
“You’re going tree planting today!” What? “Tree planting. It’s happening today. Since you came late, we volunteered you!” So I boarded the bus along with dozens of other employees from other departments.
I wondered if they, too, had been “volunteered.”
The tree planting itself was fun (as was the barbecue they made for us!), but one memory sticks with me from that day.
After the Jewish National Fund representative unveiled the sign dubbing our section the “Isracard Forest,” he approached me. I was the only one in the group sporting a kippa. He handed me a card and requested that I read the Tree Planter’s Prayer for planting trees in Israel.
I agreed and stood behind the JNF podium as the Isracard company photographer snapped numerous pictures of me. (The next day, much to my embarrassment but to the envy of those who had not volunteered to participate, the photos appeared on the walls of the company. Later, they appeared in the company newsletter.) I read the prayer in a solemn voice.
“Heavenly Father, give dew for a blessing and cause beneficent rains to fall in their season.... And these saplings we plant before Thee this day, make deep their roots and wide their crown, that they may blossom forth in grace amongst all the trees in Israel, for good and for beauty.... And bless this land that it may flow again with milk and honey.”
How was it that I was fortunate enough to plant a tree in the Land of Israel? When I had woken up that morning, I didn’t imagine that this was what I’d be doing, and even though I tried to maintain a low profile while doing it, the JNF (and Isracard) had other plans.
AS I look back on it, I don’t believe I have gone tree planting in the two decades since that day – which I suppose is just as well because I will be busy at work all day this Tu Bishvat anyway.
But something occurred to me as I pondered Tu Bishvat this year. I may not be physically planting trees in Israel, but I am doing something equally rewarding, because for the past year and a half I have been working for a Tel Aviv-based PR company whose goal is to help startups get media coverage for their products and apps in both the Israeli and foreign press.
Although we work with both large and small clients from all over the world, for me personally there is no greater satisfaction than helping a small Israeli start-up get its company and product name out to the big world. But the work involved is more than just writing press releases and pitching stories to reporters.
In fact, it’s quite similar to what we generally do on Tu Bishvat – planting saplings and helping them grow by taking good care of them.
Among all my clients, one start-up in particular seems to have a direct connection to the environmentally conscious holiday.
Founded in 2012 by Oshik Efrati, Erez Lanzer and Yair Teller, and headquartered at the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village near Netanya, HomeBiogas has developed a self-assembled backyard biogas system that turns kitchen waste and livestock manure into usable cooking gas and liquid fertilizer, all while maintaining the highest health and safety standards.
HomeBiogas units serve the general population in modern urban areas, as well as in underserved communities in developing nations. The system daily produces clean cooking gas for three meals, and 10 liters of clean, natural liquid fertilizer. Easy to transport and fast to set up, HomeBiogas empowers the homeowner and minimizes one’s gas bill while significantly reducing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants entering our groundwater.
“Our goal at HomeBiogas is to make this system available to everyone, whether you live in a rural area or are an urbanite with a modern kitchen,” says Efrati, the CEO. “Our system eliminates waste, makes clean gas, and puts an end to breathing in cooking smoke. If everyone owned a HomeBiogas unit, our world would be much cleaner, safer and greener.”
OF COURSE, my favorite Tu Bishvat story recounts how Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk once asked his student, Rabbi Yitzhak Meir, to speak at their Tu Bishvat se’uda (festive meal) of fruits from the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Yitzhak chose to discuss the tractate teaching that Tu Bishvat is the new year for the trees, and gave a lengthy and complicated discourse on the subject. When he finally finished, the Kotzk Rebbe replied: “If we were in the Land of Israel, we could just go out to the fields and look at the trees. We would then understand what the ‘new year for the trees’ really means, and we would not need scholarly learning on the subject! For there, in the Land of Israel, Tu Bishvat does not say darshuni (expound upon me), but asuni (do it).”
You can celebrate Tu Bishvat in many different ways, by eating dried fruits, planting trees or saving the planet by turning your kitchen scraps into cooking gas. And if you are lucky enough to live in Israel, you can just step outside. ■
The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University and works in PR at Blonde 2.0.