When one thinks of the early days of Israel and Zionism, the images that typically come to mind are those of agriculture, of pioneers working the land and kibbutzniks struggling to make the desert bloom. Planting trees has been a way for Diaspora Jews to feel a part of the building of the State of Israel, by contributing to the growth and development of the country. The bond created when one plants a tree is a physical one that is seemingly permanent, as though the planter leaves behind a bit of themselves along with the new tree.
Today is Tu B’shevat, the “New Year of the Trees.” Often referred to as “Jewish Arbor Day,” this minor holiday on the Jewish calendar is a major one in terms of its relationship to Israel and Zionism. In Israel, large-scale tree planting efforts and ceremonies take place across the country, with children and families alike taking part in the continuing effort to build the State. In North America, in addition to Tu B’shevat seders and tree-planting events, Tu B’shevat is the flagship of the Green Zionist movement.
Evoking the image of pioneers and the physical transformation of the land of Israel from desert and swamp into a viable agricultural environment. It is this pioneering spirit that has lead to Israel’s place as a leader in the field of agricultural technology and particularly drip irrigation. Tu B’shevat is representative of the emphasis that Israel has placed on agriculture, and its key place in the development of Israeli society and culture. The kibbutzim, although in a period of transition, still remain an enduring image of Israel to Diaspora Jews. For many the image of Israelis working the land is representative of the new kind of Jew that emerged with the Zionist movement, of a Jew who is strong and self-sufficient, and capable of taking on the world.
Tu B’shevat, the day that Jews around the world take the time to celebrate and appreciate nature, should be used as a time to reflect as well on the tremendous impact that trees and environmentalism have had on the shaping of the modern State of Israel. Such things have been integral to Israel’s development into its current society, and will only continue to serve as such in the future.
Image by goldberg