Trees Have a New Year, Too
The grocery stores in Israel have been overflowing with dried fruits for the last couple of weeks, and many of the art projects in kindergartens throughout the country have centered on trees. That’s because Monday, January 17 coincides this year with the Jewish new year for trees, celebrated annually on Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat.
Tu B’Shevat first appears in the Talmud, though it relates to several biblical commandments that govern when, according to Jewish religious law, the fruit of a tree can first be eaten and what kinds of tithes are necessary. Though the Temple where the first fruits were once brought is long gone, trees in Israel are still subject to tithing.
One of the main traditions on Tu B’Shevat in Israel is, no surprise here, to plant trees. Tree-planting events are held throughout the country by youth organizations and other groups, most prominently the Keren Kayemeth L’Israel-Jewish National Fund, which is well known for its forestation projects. This year Israel is observing the Shemita (sabbatical year), when it is biblically commanded to let the land lie fallow. This means there are no big tree-planting projects or programs, though many people will be found in parks enjoying trees that have been planted in previous years.
In the Jewish Diaspora, where fresh fruit from the Holy Land was not readily available, a Tu B’Shevat tradition of eating dried fruits developed. Ironically, this has been continued in Israel – often with dried figs, kiwis, pineapples, and other delicacies imported from abroad – despite the markets being full of locally grown fresh fruit. In recent years, the tradition of having a Tu B’Shevat seder, first instituted in the 16th century, has come back into vogue. The Tu B’Shevat seder, during which 10 different fruits and four cups of wine (yes, like the Passover seder) are eaten and drunk with the proper blessings, is practiced around the world with varying traditions. Most Tu B’Shevat seders or gatherings include the Seven Species with which, the Bible says, the land of Israel was blessed: figs, dates, olives, barley, grapes, wheat and pomegranates. It is also a tradition to eat carob for Tu B’Shevat. Almonds are also popular; they come from trees that begin to blossom at the beginning of the Hebrew month. Other holiday favorites include dried apricots, bananas, persimmons … you name it.
In recent years, Tu B’Shevat has evolved into a day of environmental awareness and is marked with discussions and projects focusing on nature, conservation, sustainability, and ecology.
Israel’s Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli picked up on this theme in a Tu B’Shevat message released by her office on Monday:
“Trees and nature are here for us, and we must be there for them. In an office like the Ministry of Transport, which deals with huge infrastructures, there is huge potential for harming nature. We are aware of that and do everything we can to prevent it. When I took office, I instructed all our construction companies to ensure all infrastructure works include planting trees and you will be glad to know that they have really become experts in the field.
“For each project we undertake, environmental considerations are part of the planning. We are moving incrementally to electric, green transportation instead of diesel and its pollution, we are protecting open spaces by canceling the plan to build an airport in the Jezreel Valley, and there is much more we are doing to take care of our natural surroundings and our trees. This is what real Zionism looks like.”
Meanwhile, Tu B’Shevat was marked in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday with special tree-planting events, held in conjunction with KKL-JNF, that also marked the first anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish Educational Campus in Dubai, i24 News reported. The event comes more than a year after Israel and the UAE signed the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between the two countries.
“In this Tu B’Shevat, we don’t only plant trees but also seeds of peace!” the Israeli Consulate in Dubai tweeted.