Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat is the Jewish Arbor Day in the land of Israel. This year the holiday begins at sundown on Friday, February 10, and lasts through Saturday, February 11. Celebrate like those in Israel with a Seder. It is customary to eat figs, raisins, dates, almonds, olives, bokser-carob and pomegranates and drink grape juice. Reciting Biblical passages where the Seven Species of ancient Israel are mentioned and saying the appropriate brachot, prayers, makes the Tu B’Shevat Seder even more meaningful.
This is one of the four new years mentioned in the Talmud. The school of Shammai believed that the agricultural New Year should begin on the 1st of Shevat, but the school of Hillel said on the 15th of Shevat. The other rabbis ruled in favor of Hillel, and this date became the one used to calculate tithes for the agricultural cycle. In the Middle Ages Rabbi Yitzchak Luria and his disciples began to celebrate this New Year with a Seder filled with fruits grown in the Holy Land. In Israel today schools move out of the classroom and into the fields to plant, to clean up roads and forests and to rejoice in the land we have made our own
The planting season is a time for all Jews to do their part to make sure that the nation blooms. At some point probably every Jew has bought, or received, a Tree Certificate from Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, (KKL), Jewish National Fund (JNF). Finding the forest you thought was planted on the passing of your late grandfather may not be easy, but be assured that the funds from these donations have been put to great use over the past decades.
The JNF was founded in 1901 as a means to purchase land in Palestine. The earliest land purchases were in lands of ancient Judea, although at that time the country was ruled by the Ottomans. Under the British Mandate, more land parcels were purchased. Several wealthy Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian families owned land in Palestine, which they allowed Arab families to work and live on. The JNF paid more than market value for these barren wastelands, which now so many say Israel took illegally. Yes, some lands owned by absentee landlords were taken over by the JNF; however, according to laws of Biblical times, if land is deserted, anyone can settle it.
The little blue tin can “pushkes” are now made of paper, but the cause is still the same. In order for the desert land of Israel to thrive, there must be an excellent irrigation system first. Then add the fruit trees and vegetable plants, so that the nation can have what it needs to sustain the population. Add some Jaffa oranges, which will then be shipped elsewhere, and there is a reason why Israel is prospering. Take pride in knowing that generations of Jews worldwide have played a role in creating the land of Israel, and pray that the next generations will get to share in peace.