“Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world—for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it,” God says in a Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah. For more than a century, Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which calls itself “Israel’s largest environmental organization,” has followed that tenet by preserving nature in the Jewish state. The organization, which marked its 115th anniversary last month, launched a nationwide campaign for the Tu B’Shvat holiday in which more than half a million people are expected to participate in planting events through Feb. 17. JNS.org recounts the history behind how both the Tu B’Shvat holiday and the KKL-JNF organization have become synonymous with planting trees in Israel.
Did you know that the transformation of Tu B’Shvat from an obscure Kabbalistic holiday to its current incarnation can trace its origins to a Christian-oriented, proto-environmentalist activity in 19th-century Nebraska? Hizky Shoham, a research fellow at the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute, recounts the story behind a little-known quirk of timing and history surrounding the “Jewish Arbor Day,” which falls on Feb. 11 this year.
In 2013, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) published a survey of mature trees in Jerusalem that was “the most comprehensive of the recent SPNI surveys, including some 4,000 trees,” according to the society’s marketing and communications coordinator, Danielle Berkowitz. Many of the trees identified through such surveys have rich histories and stories attached to them. In fact, hundreds of trees throughout the Jewish state illuminate fascinating aspects of Israeli history and culture. JNS.org provides a sampling.
Winter fruit might seem less spectacular than the much more time-valued offerings of summer, but oranges and pears in particular, while quiet and “common,” can be the unexpected stars of simple savory dishes. This is perfect for Tu B’Shevat, writes bestselling cookbook author Mollie Katzen. Sparkle up your Tu B’Shevat seder with an easy but surprising sweet potato-pear soup, which goes perfectly with a winter salad featuring crunchy, colorful leaves refreshingly coated with orange sections and a yogurty-orange vinaigrette, and exuberantly dotted with pistachios (also from trees). Finish the meal with an old-fashioned cake brimming with apples and walnuts, and studded with cranberries.
Why is the holiday of Tu B'Shevat uniquely Israeli, and how is it celebrated there? Israel is the only country in the world that ended the 20th century with more trees than it started with. In just six decades, Israelis have literally sunk down roots.
Often deemed controversial for its origins within the mysticism of Kabbalah, the Tu B'Shevat seder celebrates Israel's Arbor Day by the honoring the Earth and Jewish spiritual connections to nature. Rabbi/entrepreneur Jason Miller and leaders from the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life describe the importance of coupling the traditional seder format with environmental activism that the whole family can partake in.