Tu Bishvat, the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar, celebrated this year on Wednesday, February 8, 2012, is the day that marks the beginning of a "New Year for Trees." This is the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.
Traditionally, Tu Bishvat marked an important date for Jewish farmers in ancient times. It is written in the Scriptures, "When you enter the land [of Israel] and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten" (Leviticus 19:23). The fruit of the fourth year was to be offered to the priests in the Temple as a gift of gratitude for the bounty of the land, and the fifth-year fruit -- and all subsequent fruit -- was finally for the farmer. This law, however, raised the question of how farmers were to mark the "birthday" of a tree. The Rabbis therefore established the 15th of the month of Shvat as a general "birthday" for all trees, regardless of when they were actually planted.
In modern times, Tu Bishvat has become a symbol of both Zionist attachment to the land of Israel as well as an example of Jewish sensitivity to the environment. Early Zionist settlers to Israel began planting new trees not only to restore the ecology of ancient Israel, but as a symbol of renewed growth of the Jewish people returning to their ancestral homeland. Within Israel the practice of creating a Tu Bishvat Seder is becoming increasingly popular among some groups.
Some schools in Israel organize Tu Bishvat seders in the classroom and have the children bring in nuts and an assortment of dried fruits. Meitarim, a pluralistic school in Ra'ananna organized a combination "food rescue"/seder and after they finished gleaning the fruit in the fields, they then recreated the kabbalistic Tu Bishvat Seder in the same spot. Non-profit organization Leket (formerly Table to Table) organizes gleaning activities for groups interested in getting involved with the land and they are very active on Tu Bishvat. Some American and European Jews observe Tu Bishvat by contributing money to the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael/Jewish National Fund, an organization devoted to reforesting Israel.
For environmentalists, Tu Bishvat is an ancient and authentic Jewish "Earth Day" that educates Jews about the Jewish tradition's advocacy of responsible stewardship of God's creation as manifested in ecological activism. Among them, contemporary versions of the Tu Bishvat seder, emphasizing environmentalist concerns, are gaining popularity.
Special Activities on Tu B'Shevat
This Tu B'Shevat the KKL-JNF (Karen Kayemet L'Yisrael/Jewish National Fund) marks 110 years since its establishment as an organization dedicated to strengthening the bonds between Jewish communities outside of Israel and the land of Israel. It is the major green organization in Israel and invests tremendous resources in maintaining forests and open spaces around the country.
There is no better way to feel like an Israeli than to participate in one of the many activities the KKL-JNF is offering on this holiday.
Our recommended list of special Tu B'Shevat activities includes:
1. Experience "Darom Adom" -- also known as the Red South. This annual festival celebrates the expansive anemones that blossom in the western Negev during February. Hiking in the fields carpeted with anemones as well s visiting the historical and recreational sites of the area are a local pastime that tourists can also enjoy. Tours with KKL-JNF Guides from the Re'im Recreation Center and Ruhama Forest are offered every Saturday in February, and the first Saturday in March, at 10:00, 12:00 and 14:00.
An information station at Yad Mordechai every weekend during the Scarlet South Festival.
Information Stations and Free Tours (at 10:00, 12:00 and 14:00) on Saturdays:
- Re'im Recreation Area, at the entrance to the Water Installations Route -- the story of the pioneers in the area before the establishment of the State of Israel. The tour is in private cars on the Water Installations Route in Be'eri Forest. Duration 1.25 hrs.
- Ruhama Forest, at the entrance to the Kibbutz -- with explanations about the early days of Kibbutz Ruhama in the early twentieth century. The tour is to the Jamama Well and the Byzantine church mosaic, through fields of anemones (by car and by foot).
Free. Information stations will be open from 10:00 to 15:00. Register by calling Kav Laya'ar, 1 800 350 550.
2. Enjoy the Shoshana Damari Anemone Walk on Saturday, 11 February
The Scarlet South Festival features a walk in the rolling hills near Kibbutz Ruhama, through tree groves and carpets of anemones, with activity stations all along the way, and explanations for the whole family with KKL-JNF volunteers. At the conclusion of the walk, there will be a musical celebration and fun activities for the whole family. The walk is organized by the Festival Committee.
Fee. For more information call Kav Laya'ar, 1 800 350 550.
3. Plant a tree -- Wednesday, February 8 -- 10:00-15:00 p.m.
The Jerusalem Municipality is giving residents herb saplings that you can plant and decorate at Safra Square.
4. Plant and Drive -- February 10 -- 9:00 a.m.-15:00 p.m.
You can join the KKL at a planting sites around the country to plant a tree. In the north -- the Masad Forest close to the Golani Junction, in the south by Lehavim and in the central part of the country -- at Ben Shemen Forest.
5. Natural Colors -- Ben Shemen Forest on Saturday February 11 -- 10:00 a.m.-14:00 p.m.
Fun and games for the family on the subject of trees and animals in nature.
Recommended non-profit organizations for donations in honor of Tu Bishvat:
KKL-JNF -- Jewish National Fund
Leket -- Food Rescue non-profit organization based in Ra'ananna, Israel
Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.
Publication date: February 8, 2012