The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, or Tu B’ishvat, is the day that marks the beginning of a “new year” for trees. This is the time when the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel, perhaps most famously the beautiful almond tree, emerge from their winter sleep.
Tree planting has always been a Jewish tradition. The bible states that “And you shall come to the Land, and you shall plant all kinds of edible trees…” (Leviticus, 19:23). Almost all the forests in modern Israel have been hand planted. In 1901, Israel had only 3,500 acres of forests, but by 2019, this had grown to 250,000 acres!
The Tu B’shvat holiday has morphed into the Jewish Peoples’ green holiday; an opportunity to connect to nature and stewardship of the earth that is inherently a Jewish concept. Jews around the world celebrate the holiday by eating fruits, especially species native to Israel and mentioned in the bible, like carobs, figs, dates and raisins. Some have festive meals. In Israel people plant trees, both near their homes and in parks and forests.
On Kibbutz Gezer, the community gathers together to show appreciation for the wonders of nature. They plant trees, including a tree for every baby born in the community since the last Tu B’Shvat. Kids grow up knowing where “their” tree is. Babies whose parents planted a tree for them long ago are now planting trees for their own babies.
At this year’s ceremony someone told a parable from the Talmud (Ta’anit 23a) that links trees with sustainability and intergenerational relations:
“One day, Honi the wise one, also known as the Circle Maker, was walking along the road when he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi said to him: This tree, after how many years will it bear fruit? The man said to him: It will not produce fruit until seventy years have passed. Honi said to him: But you are an old man! How do you expect to benefit from this tree? The old man replied: I found a fruitful world because others had planted it. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I, too, am planting for my descendants.”
This year trees were planted in Park Gezer, a wooded area used for picnics, camping, and outdoor gatherings, and even sometimes religious services. Last spring a storm destroyed around 30 trees in the park. Months were spent cutting up the fallen trees and cleaning out the area. So they decided this year to plant 40 trees on Tu B’Shvat to replace them: olives, oaks, pines, pecans, almonds, and more. The Gezer GEN committee planted a mulberry tree in honor of Govardhan ecovillage, their Indian GEN Twinning partner. It may just be a skinny stick-like seedling today. But they look forward to someday sharing some mulberry jam with their partners in Govardhan!