Jewish sustainable celebration of Trees
Wouldn’t we all wish to be like a tree? Familiar with the soil we are planted in; possessing fresh foliage and firm roots that withstand strong winds?
As the world becomes faster and more interconnected, Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish "Birthday for Trees" - celebrated this year on January 25th - invites us to stop and observe. Where have we put down our roots? What is the culture that they are growing in? How does our landscape and environment form our identity? Where do we want to raise our children?
The Mishnah describes our roots as an expression of our values in action. According to the Mishnah if we want to strengthen our roots we must reinforce our knowledge with actions. As part of this concept we can celebrate Tu B’Shvat as a day to deepen our environmental activities. Whether we choose to spend our time planting new trees or caring for old ones, taking action to reduce our consumption, spend time volunteering in the community or launching a new social action project – we will not only deepen our roots but enjoy a healthy and sustainable environment.
Tu B’Shvat – the social aspect:
Tu B’Shvat first appears in Chapter 1 of the Mishnah, in Rosh Hashanah tractate. According to Beit Hillel Tu B’Shvat was the date used to distinguish which fruits were grown in the past year and those grown in the coming one, for the purpose of tithe – donation of one tenth of the produce to the poor.
This date was created as a result of the ancient Israelites observations of nature, as they noticed the changing seasons.
They noted that most of the winter rains had already fallen halfway through the Jewish month of Shvat, and the fresh fruits had begun to grow. Hence, they chose it to mark the boundaries between the current fruits and those of next year’s crop.
Tu B'Shvat – the spiritual aspect:
Over the last two millennia the social aspect of the festival was forgotten and preserved only within the Ashkenazi tradition as a date forbidden to fast and to eat plenty of fruit.
In the 16th century Tsfat spiritualists and Kabbalists revived the concept of a Tu B’Shvat ‘Seder’ – a festive Tu B’Shvat meal where 30 different fruits would be eaten and blessings recited within a specific order. For the Kabbalists the Seder emphasizes the spiritual aspect of nature, seeing man as a partner in the act of creation and its daily renewal, who is able to repair the world through his or her actions.
Tu B'Shvat – a national aspect:
With the beginning of the Zionist enterprise Tu B'Shvat once again evolved, gaining a new practical significance – becoming the day when children from across the country plant trees, putting down their roots figuratively and taking an active part in its building and blossoming.
Tu B'Shvat– the international aspect:
In recent years, with our growing awareness of a worsening global ecological crisis Tu B’shvat has taken on a new significance as Jewish "Earth Day".
Many Jewish communities around the world have chosen Tu B’Shvat as a time for ecological introspection and acknowledging that the destruction of nature does nothing but cut through the branch on which we sit. Tu B’Shvat allows us to take action to create a balanced world where nature and man co-exists in harmony.
Tu B'Shvat – the personal aspect:
Today Tu Bishvat is a special day uniquely combining tradition, history, spirituality, mysticism social action, Zionism and environmentalism. We all have the right - and the obligation- to pour our own personal values into this celebration, as we fuse our heritage with the current modern Israeli version of Arbor Day.
So what can you do to celebrate?
Plant a fruit tree: celebrate the traditional way. Just remember a tree is for life not just for Tu B’Shvat! Give it a few years and with the right care you enjoy its fruit at your own Tu B’Shvat Seder.
Make your own Tu B’Shvat Seder: download a Seder ceremony composed by “Teva Ivri “and invite your friends over to celebrate. You are more than welcome to join one of the Tu B’shvat Seders organized by SPNI in several locations such as Alon Tavor, the Beit- Ussishkin museum at Kibbutz Dan, and more.
Get out and enjoy nature, wherever you are: And if you’re lucky enough to live in Israel, SPNI has many activities planned, including our traditional tree planting and guided hikes around Modi’in, attended by thousands. If you live abroad look out for details of activities in your area.
Respect the elderly (trees): every tree has its own story and some trees in your neighborhood may be hundreds of years old. Tu B’Shvat is a great opportunity to do some of your own research and discover your neighborhood’s natural history. What you might find may surprise you.
Protect the environment: the environment is much more than just trees; you can volunteer in a conservation project by your local organizations, join one of the many action-oriented campaigns spearheaded by SPNI, or support SPNI’s all year round nature protection work.
Category: Our Global Community
The Culture of Consumption is Killing Us
You might not have heard yet that the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving has a name, and a very important purpose. Giving Tuesday, this December 1, is the result of a global movement pushing back against a holiday season of consumer extravagance. So after the mass sales of Black Friday and the online shopping boom of Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to focus on giving rather than consuming.
Reducing consumption is one of the most important, fundamental challenges that face us. The average American consumes more than his or her weight in products each day and consumption per capita is continuing to spiral upward. Such trends are not a natural consequence of economic growth but the result of deliberate efforts by businesses to win over consumers, so brilliantly detailed in the ground-breaking video The Story of Stuff, which convincingly shows how our "materials economy" is not sustainable. Planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence are just two of the main tricks of the trade to get us to buy, buy, buy. This global culture of excess that could wipe out any gains from government action on climate change, or even a shift to a clean energy economy.
I once heard Annie Leonard, the producer of The Story of Stuff, talk about a letter she received from one of the 20 million people world-wide who viewed her video. It was from a woman in Texas who wrote saying that she didn't realize how detrimental is the problem of overconsumption, and now that she has seen the video, she doesn't feel it is right to take her 3 school-aged daughters to the mall to shop every Sunday. She ended the letter with a plaintive query, which speaks volumes about the ubiquitous nature of this crisis: "What", the woman wanted to know, "can we do on Sundays instead?"
How about we take a cue from the state of Vermont, where the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is teaming up with some doctors with a plan to get more people outside and exercising by having the physicians write "prescriptions" that are really free passes to any Vermont State Park. The "Park Prescription" program is designed to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent chronic health issues by encouraging exercise at state parks, combining the physical benefits of exercise with the mental and emotional benefits of spending time in nature.
Here in Israel, SPNI meets the challenges of consumer excess in two important ways: we advocate and advance sustainable practices for government, industry, and the public, and we provide quality nature-based experiences and nature education for millions of Israelis every year. By supporting ASPNI on Giving Tuesday, you will be making a statement for the importance of nature in our material world.
We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving, and perhaps, for a bit, getting out of our malls and into nature! Both of these acts will do us a world of good.
If you wish to support SPNI make a donation now
Category: Our Global Community
60 Years of Nature Protection in Israel: What’s next?
In many ways it felt appropriate that the day after the passing of Azaria Alon, the forefather of Israel’s environmental movement and co-founder of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), SPNI pondered the question “What’s next for Israeli nature” at its 6th Annual Jerusalem Conference. The picture emerging from the various panels is that 60 years of environmental activities has kept Israel’s biodiversity in relatively good shape; but that many threats and challenges exist that leave no room for complacency. Perhaps the best hope will be the publication, in 2015, of Israel’s National Biodiversity Masterplan, with much energy at the conference spent discussing what it should include.
After a moment of silence in memory of Azaria Alon, MK Amir Peretz took the stage. The Israeli Minister for Environmental Protection delivered a passionate speech attacking the government’s plans to build a railway to Eilat and Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar for appointing 5 new members to the Park and Nature Authority Council, who Peretz believes, were appointed to authorize the railway’s route through protected nature reserves. Amir Peretz left no doubt in the mind of any of the over 500 people in the audience that he will do everything in his power to prevent this ‘megalomaniacal’ project from becoming a reality and that he stands with us to protect Israel’s nature.
The other major statement came from SPNI CEO Moshe ‘Kosha’ Pakman officially announcing SPNI’s appeal to National Council for Planning and Building against the approval of plans for an enormous housing project on former Israel Military Industries land in the Sharon region. SPNI is appealing to the National Council for Planning and Building to totally reimagine their plans and include a park to preserve 373 plant species and contiguous open spaces in the Central Region. SPNI hopes “the park would protect the public’s natural assets and serve as a center for educational activities and public events for many residents.” This appeal embodied many of the ideas stemming from the conference of the need to protect open spaces and their contiguousness through national strategic planning.
Throughout the day experts from SPNI, Israel Parks and Nature Authority, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, government ministries and the business world presented their ideas and debated planning reforms, environmental education, community engagement, urban nature, and the role of business in preserving biodiversity. There emerged a general consensus among the experts that Azaria Alon has left behind a healthy legacy. However, a lot of work remains for us and all Israelis to ensure that we and our children can enjoy a country with birds, butterflies and flowers. As in Azaria Alon’s famous sentiment, what is life without them really worth?
Category: Our Global Community
Drawing Inspiration from her native Sweden and her Negev surroundings Sara Kallus created a unique jewelry collection, Naturally Silver
Born and raised in Sweden, Sara Kallus has made her home in Mitzpeh Ramon. Gathering inspiration from the wooded landscapes of her childhood and the stark vistas of the Negev, she created a unique line of jewelry, Naturally Silver. Naturally Silver, uses small pieces of natural Israel, while giving back to Israeli nature in a big way. Sara has pledged 70% of the proceeds from the collection to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Sara began her life in the Swedish countryside. Born to a Swedish mother and an Israeli father, she grew up with a strong connection to her natural surroundings. "I was raised to take care of nature." Sara explained that she often played outdoors, "We had a tree house in the forest, went skating on lakes and skiing in winter." She also described picnics in the forest after school with sandwiches and hot chocolate.
After finishing her education in Media Engineering at Midsweden University, Sara travelled to the French Alps. While working at a ski resort there, Sara met her future husband. When he returned home to Israel he regretted not exchanging details with the stunning blonde he had met on vacation. In true Israeli fashion he did not give up, months later, he sent a friend visiting France to the ski resort to track down Sara and get her contact information. After a year cultivating a relationship across the distance, Sara made the leap and moved to Israel.
Although she had an Israeli father, Sara's move to Israel was not an obvious one. Sara grew up disconnected from the Jewish and Israeli communities in Sweden. After arriving in Israel, Sara continued to pursue her career in computers and IT. It was only when she started her family that she found a new direction in jewelry.
While pregnant with her first child Sara took a course in silversmithing. She began designing simple, light, silver pieces with the clean lines typical of Swedish taste. "I couldn't find the style of jewelry I was looking for in the shops in Israel," Sara said. "I want my jewelry to be light weight, comfortable and all-around."
After receiving complements from friends and strangers alike, Sara was encouraged to embrace her new hobby full time and start selling her jewelry. Her success with NAKI Design led her to want to give back to Israel. "It really hurt me when I came here, the lack of education when it comes to preserving the environment," Sara explained. The urge to do a project that would allow her to give back led Sara to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
The Naturally Silver collection is a unique collection designed to help support the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Small pieces of Israeli nature are carefully selected, leaves are put in a bath of electrolytic solution to deposit silver on the surface, twigs have been selected, molded and worked into bracelets, rings and earrings, each creating a one of a kind piece of jewelry, with a small part of Israel at the core.
Wearing Sara's Naturally Silver collection connects you to the Land of Israel and reminds you of the country's precious natural beauty. The clean lines of the collection combine Sara's wintry forested heritage with the textured, broad expanses of the desert she has made home.
Today Sara lives in Mitzpeh Ramon with her husband and two children. They are expecting a new addition to the family this winter.
Category: Our Global Community
Lawrence meets activists at the 4th Annual Conference for Community Gardens
Earlier this week I visited Israel’s 4th National Community Garden Conference in Haifa. I was overwhelmed by the energy of the attendees, most of them activists in one of the 300 or so Community Gardens that currently exist in Israel. In Israel there are very few private gardens in homes, but lots of spare open spaces between apartment buildings in densely built up areas. It is these spaces where Community Gardens are built. SPNI coordinates dozens of Community Garden projects which bring greenery and nature into neighborhoods but also improve quality of life into neighborhoods and create a platform for social cohesion.
Before the conference officially kicked off gardeners were showing off their wares, sharing gardening techniques and growth strategies in a tightly packed corridor. Local schools who had their own gardens were also there showing off their own impressive and colorful harvests (schools have their own educational gardens too, so they know that vegetables are grown from the ground and not from the supermarket).
Before the Israeli tradition of countless opening speeches, attendees were shown a short video on the Community Garden process was shown. The video illustrated how a wasteland in a neighborhood Migdal Ha’Emek was transformed into a functioning Community Garden. At the beginning of the film the area was a typical Israeli inner city wasteground; yellow dirt, random tufts of yellow grass and lots of discarded plastic bottles and sweet wrappers and some abandoned sofas. By the end of the film the area was green, furnished and populated by local children and families – in short completely unrecognizable. The residents’ involvement was laid out in the film from the initial meeting when the idea for a Community Garden was presented, to residents planning the layout of the garden, preparing the land and designing the patterns of the mosaics that now decorate the seats (made out of recycled materials) in the Community Garden.
I echo the opinion of Yoel Rasvozov MK (Yesh Atid) who spoke at the event that Community Gardens are a modern expression of the idea that the land of Israel is something that binds the Jewish people. Community Garden’s help connect Israelis to the land in a real way beyond the concrete, glass and brick that our urban environment consists of. Globally the Community Garden movement is gaining traction as a way of growing food and natural therapy. That could be the future for Israeli Community Gardens too, but for now, in my opinion, they are a natural successor to the Kibbutz movement – land that people farm for pleasure while breaking down social boundaries and connecting to their homeland. They also fulfill an important role in the by creating common ground (pun intended) between Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Israeli Arabs and immigrants from Russian, Ethiopia and the rest of the world who come together as equals to improve their neighborhoods from the bottom up.
I’m now just waiting for my city of Modi’in to set aside some land for our own Community Garden.
Category: Our Global Community