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Isramail - Tu B'Shevat

TreeSo after we celebrated the New Year, it’s time for the trees to celebrate their own new year in the Jewish calendar - Tu B'Shevat

I’m sorry, but this Jewish holiday was never one of my favorites growing up. I couldn’t really understand what the story is all about, these trees where here on the planet before we were, mankind, why do they need a holiday? And what does that have to do with Judaism?

The songs? Bad! Not remotely as good as Passover and Chanukah songs! The food? Figs, raisins, carobs, you get the message. Days off from school? No! Only labor and work, planting trees in the sun!

But time went by and today, well, it’s still not my favorite, but I appreciate this holiday more than I did in the past!

My connection to this holiday started 3 1/2 years ago, as Haifa, where I was born, suffered the biggest fire in the history of the state of Israel.

In early December, six weeks before Tu B'Shevat, an area in the Carmel forest (15-20 minutes from my house) caught on fire, burning more than five million trees, 6200 acres, causing the evacuation of 17,000 people and killing 44 people, most of them on a bus of prison guards sent to evacuate prisoners from a nearby jail. 

More than 20 countries including Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and even the Palestinian authority sent planes and helicopters to help stop the fire that blazed on for five straight days non-stop.                                                             

My family was not evacuated in the end, but they were next in line. I was stuck in my army base in the south, with no option of helping and assisting, I still remember my parents calling me to ask if there was anything special I wanted them to save and keep from my room in case the fire continued for a few more hours.

That awful fire, the loss of so many people, wildlife and trees in an area I used to hike and camp in so often really emphasized for me the importance of nature and the environment around us, something we take for granted and even abuse occasionally. Going back to the fire zone, seeing the dead trees, the burnt soil and the smell of the fire that remained for months later, really left me speechless as I had never seen something like that in my life.

Today, when I think of Tu B'Shevat, I think of that terrible fire and the forest that will come back to what it was maybe in 30-40 years, when I will be close to 60. This one-of-a kind holiday, just for trees, for the environment, for the world that we live in, for me, is wonderful and worth appreciating and acknowledging. Even more so, as an Israeli, being a part of the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees, of a country with massive worldwide innovative agriculture and state-of-the-art desalination plants, making Israel’s future drinking water not rain dependent and many more….

All of these, including the fact that my name in Hebrew means oak tree, makes me appreciate this holiday and its importance to me personally, to me as an Israeli and to me as a Jew. 

So happy Tu B'Shevat for you of all and happy birthday to all you tree-named people.

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