Israelis Celebrate Tu B'Shvat


JERUSALEM, Israel -- Thousands of school children will spend today planting saplings with their classmates in observance of Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees.

Every year on the 15th of Shvat on the Hebrew calendar (January 16 this year), Israelis mark the one-day holiday by planting trees and enjoying their fruit -- dates, apricots, almonds and a variety of other fruits -- at Tu B'Shvat meals, called seders.

Tu B'Shvat has been celebrated in Israel since 1901, the same year Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (also known as the Jewish National Fund) was founded.

Every year KKL/JNF sponsors tree-planting outings for young and old alike, a tradition that affirms the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

By 1935, Keren Kayemet had planted more than 1.7 million trees. Today that number has grown exponentially.

Under the Ottoman occupation (1517-1917), huge forests were cut down, turning large swaths of farmland into swamps and desert. Jews returning to the land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries began the arduous task of clearing mosquito-infested swamps, planting thousands of Eucalyptus trees to help drain the surplus water. Many of those early pioneers died of malaria.

In recent years, arsonists have attempted -- and succeeded at times -- to destroy hundreds of acres of established forests. In December 2010, one of the deadliest forest fires in the nation's history swept across the Carmel Mountains, killing more than 40 people and destroying an estimated 5 million trees.

But the Israeli spirit is resilient and those forests and others that have suffered loss at the hands of arsonists are being replanted.

This year, busloads of Israelis are making their way to the Jordan Valley, Judea and Samaria to reaffirm Jewish ownership of these lands being touted as giveaways under the U.S.-proposed peace deal.

The Palestinian Authority would like to take over the Jordan Valley and rid Judea and Samaria of its Jewish residents. But Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon says that's not going to happen. He's leading a large contingent of Likudniks (members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party) and others to tour Jewish farming communities in the Jordan Valley and plant trees there.

"We are sending a clear message to our friends in the U.S. that the Likud's stance on the Jordan Valley is unanimous," Danon said. "Planting trees is the ultimate way to prove our connection to the valley and persuade people that without communities there, there will be no security."

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