Earl Shugerman brings every week a serie of stories about Anglo-Saxon immigrants to Israel. This project is aimed to promote a more realistic view of life in Israel.
The most famous tree in history is the Tree of Life (Etz Ha Haim). I am writing this story from Israel during the Jewish holiday that celebrates trees and nature- Tu B’Shvat. Trees hold a special significance to the people of Israel and to the Jewish people. Trees represent the beauty of nature, the tenacity of growth, and the yearning for roots by the Jewish people.
One of the most beautiful things about life in Israel is that ancient history and modern life are so intricately entwined. This holiday is on the fifth month of the Jewish calendar- Shvat. Modern Israel uses both the ancient Jewish calendar and the Latin one- which of course is universal. Tu B’Shvat is celebrated as a national holiday even though its’ roots date back to the ancient Mishna– a collection of ancient interpretations of the Old Testament. These interpretations have guided the daily lives of Jewish people all over the world for centuries. The Mishna states that Tu B’Shvat is the time of year when the trees begin their new cycle and soon blossom.
Tu B’Shvat has become a very significant holiday in modern Israeli reality, since it connects the Jewish people with Eretz Israel (the land of Israel). There is a good reason Tu B’Shvat was declared as Israel Knesset’s birthday.
In the Talmud times Tu B’Shvat represented an argument between Bait Hillel and Bait Shamai as to when should taxes on fruit be paid. Bait Shamai said it should be paid on the first of the month of Shavat, Bait Hillel said it should be paid on the 15th (T”u) of the month of Shvat.
In Middle Ages Tu B’Shvat was a day Jews remembered with yearning and longing for the fruits of Israel. During the 15th century, the Cabalistic Jews in the city of Tzafad created a Tu B’Shvat Seder, in a similar manner to the Pesach Seder. Slowly and over time, this Seder took a firm hold and in modern days have become one the main leading aspects of the holiday.
In early 20th century, at the beginning of Zionism, parents used to take their children to plant trees all over Israel and this is how Tu B’Shvat became the holiday of planting.
In religious practice, this a time that emphasizes Mitzvah connected to nature. In Israel, during this holiday, there is not a piece of land unworthy of the planting of a tree. From the forests in the North, to the dessert in the South- you will see students, soldiers, seniors and even tourists tilling the soil, planting trees, and irrigating the land.
This holiday includes a gathering of neighbours and family to celebrate the gifts of nature and the rewards that come from the earth. The Tu B’Shvat Seder, much like the Passover Seder, has an organized program. The program includes the eating of thirty different kinds of fruit, and drinking four glasses of red and white wine. The eating of the fruit has a symbolic value to it. Tradition has it, that eating fruit from the tree, and therefore taking part in the abundance of nature has a strong element of spiritual growth. The union of mankind and the rewards from the earth is the essence of spiritual fulfilment in this holiday. People drink wine at the Seder to symbolize joy and happiness. Wine is a symbol of happiness and that is why it is blessed at parties and important Jewish ceremonies such as holidays, Shabbat, weddings or circumcisions.
The greatest joy to the people of Israel is to celebrate the rebirth of an ancient nation blessed with prosperity and hopefully peace.
Thank you for allowing me to share some of this joy with the readers!
About the author: Earl Shugerman is a retired American Government public relations specialist, currently spokesman in Haifa for The Jewish Agency and a writer specializing in interfaith relations. He has worked together with the Catholic and Southern Baptist Movements, the Reformed Jewish Movement and Muslim groups in interfaith activities.