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Israel Celebrates Tu BiShvat—the New Year for the Fruits of the Trees

February 10, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt

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Almond tree in blossom on Tu BiShvat

Friday, 10 February 2017 | Sundown tonight signals the start of a special holiday tied uniquely to the Land of Israel. On Tu BiShvat, the people who call the Jewish state home celebrate the New Year for the fruits of the trees.

For most of us living in Western society, New Year celebrations come but once every 12 months—on December 31. Yet things are different in the Jewish state. In fact, the Hebrew calendar features a full four days to celebrate the “new year”, each day with its own distinctive purpose.

The first new year is known as Rosh HaShanah, literally “the head of the year,” and serves as the start of the civil calendar. The second falls in early spring during Pesach (Passover), and celebrates redemption from slavery in Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation. The third occurs in late summer and is known as the “new year for animal tithes.”

But then there is a fourth holiday, called Tu BiShvat, on which the people of Israel mark the beginning of the “new year” for trees. This year, the holiday begins at sunset tonight and continues until dusk tomorrow.

This particular new year celebration has both practical and religious purposes. The Torah (Gen.–Deut.) instructs that fruit from trees may not be eaten during their first three years. During the fourth year, the fruit yield from any tree belongs to God. Yet in the fifth year and after, the fruit is for the enjoyment of the people.

Practically, Tu BiShvat is thus for the purpose of calculating the age of trees, as each tree in the land is considered to have aged one year on this day. And so we arrive at the playful saying that Tu BiShvat is the birthday for trees in Israel.

Tree planted on Tu BiShvat

Like all new years, Tu BiShvat comes with the promise of renewal, rebirth and growth in nature. Known in international media as Israeli Arbor Day, many across the country celebrate this day by planting trees or taking part in activities to raise environmental awareness.

This year marks a particularly poignant one for the people of Israel. Late in November 2016, a series of fires of reduced patches of Israel to a landscape of devastation and ruin. By the time the threat of flames was brought under control, the fires had destroyed 560 homes and ravaged some 130,000 dunams (32,124 acres) of natural forests, brush lands and protected parklands.

In the aftermath of the disaster, experts calculated that the rehabilitation and reconstruction of natural sites like forests and nature parks as well as infrastructure damaged in the blaze could take up to 30 years. According to the Jewish National Fund, the fire destroyed more than 11,000 dunams (2,718 acres) of forest land with 7,500 dunams (1,853 acres) incinerated in the Jerusalem hills alone.

In the face of calamity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the people of Israel would “rebuild the homes that were lost in the fire and replant the forests that were burned. In the place of every tree that was blackened, another ten green trees will bloom,” the prime minister said at the time. “That is what our predecessors did since the establishment of the Zionist enterprise, and that is what we will do as well: plant, build and deepen our roots.”

Tu BiShvat falls on the 15th day of Shvat, the 11th month in the Hebrew calendar which translates to either January or February in the Gregorian calendar. Traditionally, these are the coldest months in Israel when winter winds and rain continue to lash the Land of Promise. People and nature alike, it seems, are still inclined to hibernate until the sunny days of summer.

Yet Tu BiShvat is about a promise. It is the first whisper of the end of a dreary winter and the earliest hint of new life stirring—even if the signs remain yet unseen. This is the season during which the trees all over the Land of Israel will awaken from their winter sleep and bloom to new life—even though no buds are visible yet.

In Israel, the “new year” for the fruits of the trees is a joyous celebration. Families and friends gather around festive dinner tables groaning with the abundance of fruits native to the Jewish homeland. Dishes made from the seven species, namely wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates, described in Deuteronomy 8:8 as abundant in the Land are a firm holiday favorite.

As the winter winds and cold continue to lash the Land of Promise, on Tu BiShvat the Jewish people celebrate the promise that the dreary skies will give way to sunshine that the Land of Israel will continue to produce in lavish abundance and that destruction will be turned into a flowering harvest.

Posted on February 10, 2017

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 10 February 2017)

Photo Credit: Daniel Kirchhevel/ Bridges for Peace

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