By OFER ZEMACH
Tu Bishvat, the Jewish festival of trees with traditional tree planting and feasts of fruit, falls on Monday. The holiday, the 15th day in the Jewish month of Shvat, was once the last date of the tax year for the produce of trees. Any fruit ripening after Tu Bishvat was to be assessed for tithing only for the following tax season.
The custom of eating fruit on Tu Bishvat was established in the 16th century when the Jewish center in Safed was founded. It was a symbol of man's participation in the joy of trees, and the custom soon spread among all the Jewish communities.
The New Year for the trees was not originally a day for planting trees. This is a modern Zionist invention which began in 1892, when the educator Ze'ev Ya'avetz took his pupils to plant trees in honor of the day.
The custom of school children and their teachers going out to the fields to plant trees on Tu Bishvat was officially adopted by the Jewish National Fund and Jewish education system in 1908. It turned into a symbol of the participation of the individual in the national project of redemption.
It was no coincidence that the 15th of Shvat - the day which symbolizes the revival of nature, highlighted by the flowering of the almond trees, and of the renewed ties between the Jewish people and its land - was chosen by various institutions as their inauguration day: The cornerstone of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem was set in 1918, the Technion in Haifa in 1925, and the Knesset in 1949.
Although there is a good chance for cold winter rain, many Israelis will go out to the parks and forests on Monday to keep up with the tradition of planting a tree. Whether you're following the custom or just want to spend the holiday out in the woods, here are a few recommended options.
Planted during the '50s and the '60s, the Biriya Forest is one of the largest green spaces in the Galilee, extending over some 20,000 dunams north of Safed. Offering glorious panoramas of Mount Meron, the snowy Mount Hermon, and the entire Naftali Ridge, the forest boasts picnic grounds, and walking trails. A 6-km. scenic road for cars, revamped by the JNF, passes through archaeological remains and graves of sages, including the grave of Yonatan Ben-Uziel. Along the road also lies the synagogue of the ancient Jewish settlement known as Navoriyah, a pistachio and walnut orchard at the Botna Valley, and the natural spring at Ein Gever. The end of the road joins with Road 886 leading to Ein Zeitim, next to Dalton.
A wide variety of trees such as sycamore, eucalyptus, palm acacia and cypress can be found in the Hulda Forest, southeast of Rehovot. Known also as Herzl Forest, this is the first forest planted in the early 1900s by the JNF. A marked path through the forest leads to Herzl House, which was restored a few years ago by the JNF. The place is a landmark in the history of settlement as well as a fantastic spot for a leisurely picnic. The first floor of Herzl's villa houses a modern Mediterranean-style restaurant for the greater enjoyment of visitors.
Thirty-two Israeli artists were invited to line a new Sculpture Road near Kibbutz Hatzerim, west of Beersheba. As one of the JNF projects combining art and nature, this road beginning at the Air Force Museum passes through magnificent desert vistas, archaeological sites and pastoral forests.
Dozens of almond trees that have become the symbol of Tu Bishvat, are blossoming in pink and white all along the road from the Sataf Forest via Ein Kerem to Jerusalem.
At the Sataf, a corner of hidden beauty in the Judean Hills, two springs flow from the mountain irrigating agricultural terraces, a reminder of the ancient Hebrew culture dating back thousands of years. The JNF has restored these agricultural terraces and improved the conduits that bring the water to the irrigated crops. A marked walking path passes between olive plantations and cultivated plots, then descends to a corner which provides a fantastic lookout over the scenery. Make sure to visit the Sataf pool which was the old village's main water supply.
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