Today, February 10, 2020 is the Jewish holiday of Tu B’shvat. Shvat is the fifth month on the Hebrew calendar. ‘Shvat’ is a word derived from the Ashuri language, meaning ‘branch’.
You may wonder why the Israelites decided to name this month after a part of a tree. The simple answer is that in this month, Shvat, the trees start to arise from their dormancy and bloom once more, spurting leaves and flowers.
Tu B’shvat is a combination of the old Jewish tradition and new Zionist values.
In the olden days, Jews in Safed who were practitioners of the Kabblah, celebrated this holiday by having a “Seder”, a ceremonial dinner, in which a vast variety of fruits were laid out and served.
This custom started during the 16th century during the days when fresh fruits were scarce and hard to come by and so Jews consumed dried fruits.
Nowadays, in Israel of the 21st century, fresh fruits are widely available, either imported or genetically engineered.
With the rise of the Zionist movement and the establishment of the JNF, a new national holiday was created, ‘The holiday of the trees’ in which all Israelis, young and old, plant trees. This holiday was created by teachers from the Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv.
Every Israeli has memories of the tree planting ceremonies held in the schools throughout their years of study.
Due to this tradition, Israel is one of the only countries in the world to have more trees today than it did 100 years ago.
However, tree planting is not unique to Israel. It is a modern Jewish tradition to plant trees at times of happiness and of sorrow, out of a deep connection of the Diaspora Jews to Israel and a concern for future generations.
This Tu B’shvat, the JNF has launched a challenge of planting 100,000 new trees, as a replacement for those burnt in the forests surrounding the Gaza Strip, due to the terrorist balloons sent from Gaza.
We enclose here the prayer of the planter, which was written by Rabbi Uziel in the early 20th century.
Our father in Heaven,
Builder of Zion and Jerusalem,
Founder of the kingdom of Israel,
Look down from your holy domain in Heaven,
And bless your people Israel,
And the land that you presented to us,
That you promised to our ancestors.
Take pleasure in your land.
And bestow abundance upon it,
From the goodness of your lovingkindness —
Give dew for a blessing.
And cause beneficial rains to precipitate in their season,
To satiate the mountains of Israel and her valleys.
And to water upon them, every shrub, (and) tree, and our plantings.
Deepen their roots and grow their crown,
So that they blossom according to your will,
Among all the trees in Israel,
For blessing and for splendor.
Strengthen the hands of all our comrades,
Who toil in the labor of the holy Earth,
And make her desolate areas fruitful.
Bless, God, their might.
And may the work of their hands be favored by you.