New Year of the Trees
by Petra van der Zande
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On the 15th of Shvat (January 22nd), Israel celebrated the “New Year of Trees”. (“Tu”=15)
At this time of year the trees stop absorbing water from the ground and begin to draw nourishment from their sap. Although not mentioned in the Torah, and only once in the Mishnah, this “new year” was used for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing its fruit.
On this day it is customary to eat the types of dried fruit mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 (“Seven Species”), to plant trees or to donated money for trees.
Some Orthodox Jews make candy from their Etrog (one of “Four Species” during Sukkot) and eat it during Tu B'Shvat.
Since its inauguration in 1901, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) or “Keren Keyemet LeYisrael” (KKL) has played a key-role in Israel’s survival. Most people associate JNF only with tree-plantings, but this is only part of their activities.
In the past 100 years, the JNF planted 220 million trees, built 150 dams and reservoirs, developed over 250.000 acres of land and created more than 400 national parks.
Until the 2nd Lebanon War, Israel was the only country in the world with more trees in the 21st Century than it did at the beginning of the 20th century.
This changed when more than 750,000 trees were burned (equivalent of 1,500 soccer fields) as a result of Hezbollah’s rockets, fired from Lebanon.
Most of the forests were 50-60 years old, and there is no way to speed things up.
Having learned many lessons from previous major forest fires (Carmel and Jerusalem Corridor), the JNF decided to let 1/3 of the burnt areas renew themselves with minimal intervention; 1/3 of the area will revive through natural regeneration and selective planting of native species (e.g. Cedars); 1/3 will be actively replanted.
Workers from the JNF’s Golani Nursery went to the ravaged areas to harvest seeds from some 300 tree species. Some of the seeds went through an acid bath to stimulate passing through a bird’s stomach. In order to accelerate their growth the seedlings were exposed to the light for 24 hours a day. This way, tens of thousands of seedlings were produced to replace the burnt forests.
By replanting pines, olive, carob, fig, almond, pomegranate, Pistacia and oak trees in the North, the JNF hopes to bring back the forests that used to be there in Biblical times.
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