Tu B'Shevat in Israel

The holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, symbolizes nature and concern for the environment. In Israel, the most common activity associated with this holiday is planting trees. The land of Israel is blessed with seven species:  "a land of wheat, and barley, and vines; of fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey." Four of the species are trees. Trees represent life, longevity, uprightness, renewal and stability. They have the ability to survive storms and wind. They may bend and lose leaves, but they still remain upright, growing new leaves every
spring.

Tu B'Shevat is the time of year when almond trees are budding all over Israel. Their pink and white blooms add beauty to the Israeli winter.


The olive tree symbolizes the Land of Israel more than any other. The gnarled
bark of ancient olive trees on terraced hillsides, in groves and private gardens, seems to keep secrets from centuries of history. Old olive trees are expensive and are a sign of wealth. Most of Israel's modern roundabouts are decorated with impressive olive trees that are illuminated at night. The oldest olive trees in Israel are dated as 1600 years old!  In ancient times, olive oil was used for cooking, to light lamps, and as a soap and skin conditioner. Today, the olive remains a popular food and its golden oil is valued for its many virtues. Since the days of Noah, the olive branch has been a symbol of peace.


The distinctive leaf of the fig tree, used as clothing by Adam and Eve, is widespread all over the Israeli landscape. In biblical times, the fig was used to make honey and alcohol, in addition to being eaten fresh, as it still is. The trees' aroma is integral to Israeli memories, nostalgia and dreams.

Pomegranate trees are common in Israeli gardens, as well, becoming heavy with fruit just on time for Rosh Hashanah. Tradition has it that a pomegranate has 613 seeds to represent the 613 commandments in the Torah.

Although many Israeli paintings show date trees, date palms are found only in the hotter areas. In the biblical era, dates were made into syrup, and many believe the notion of the "land flowing with milk and honey" actually referred to dates.

The pine flowers in March and April and can be found all across Israel. The Jewish National Fund introduced the pine in the twentieth century because it can withstand a dry climate. It was planted on large plots from the Galilee to the Judean Mountains. Today, most of Israel's forests are made up of pine trees.

Another tree not native to Israel is the eucalyptus, imported originally from Australia. It was originally introduced in the nineteenth century to dry the swamps. A quick growing tree, it consumes all available water nearby. For many, eucalyptus symbolizes the struggle of the pioneers, attempting to build the new state, fighting natural and human threats.

Another common tree in Israel is the cypress, which flowers March through May. The cypress was introduced by the Jewish National Fund in an attempt to break the wind around many orchards.

In the Israeli desert, the most common tree is the acacia, originally from the Sahel plains in Africa. Often, the tree’s water reserves enable it to bloom with no rain, and then they bear minute leaves. Most acacia seeds are punctured by seed-beetles who consume their content.

 

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