Every Tu B’Shevat, Jewish schools and organizations across the US receive the Jewish National Fund (JNF) tree-planting packets. We all know the spiel: Send in $18 and plant a tree in Israel to honor or remember someone, and help make the Israeli desert landscape green. I’ve been doing this ever since I was a child. Now, as an educator, I give the same spiel to my students. But I never really understood the connection between the religious and Torah aspects with the environmental.
Today we went to Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel. They help bridge the gap between Torah and the environment. We drove through areas that had the 4 species for Sukkot, and then the 7 species of Israel. What was really cool for me was that I ACTUALLY saw pomegranates growing. I love the pomegranate design on many Israeli decorations and household items - it’s just something that strikes me as inherently Israeli. In fact, the tallit my parents gave me for Chanukah this past year had pomegranates on the atarah.
So, we arrive at Neot Kedumim, and the first thing I see is a sign that says Ceremonial Tree Planting Center Jewish National Fund. I was ecstatic. I had a few students through the years who asked me, “Ms. Smith, how do we REALLY know they’re planting trees in Israel with our 18 bucks?” Now I can say “been there, done that.” After a short ceremony about sowing the land, each member of the group received a seedling and a spade and told to go forth and plant! It was a bit difficult; the land was very dry and rocky (in fact, it reminded me of the first time I went to plant a garden in my backyard - tons of rocks and pieces of hard-packed dirt) and just tough. We were to dig a hole two fists deep and drop in the seedling horizontally. These were oak trees we were planting, and the roots come out one end, the sapling from the other, and it rights itself in the ground. Gotta love nature.
We then learned how olive oil was made with a huge stone press. One finny note is that when the olives are first crushed, the material they leave is called the “kvetch” which means “crushed.“ So when we all talk about kvetching… well, let’s just think about that! Our wonderful tour guides gave us mortars and pestles and we made our own zata - a green spice that reminds me a bit of oregano. We were even given little baggies to bring it home in. Here in Israel, it will be put on top of hummus and pita. It smells delicious.
This outing had a very special meaning to me. I’ve taught my students about Eco Judaism and how to be “Eco-Jews” - utilize our knowledge of Judaism and the Torah to help benefit the earth and our land. I start by telling them about the design of the farm, which crops are not allowed near each other for various reasons, and how when crops are harvested, they are to leave 20% for the poor to come and graze. Then we usually discuss recycling, going green, how these actions contribute to Tikkun Olam, etc. We also discuss how one mitzvah is to plant a tree in Israel. I try to teach by example. Now I truly can.
--- Robyn Smith