Customers choosing dried fruits for sale at the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem in preparation for the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90
Customers choosing dried fruits for sale at the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem in preparation for the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Our family tradition at Tu B’Shevat each year is to take part in planting saplings at one of the KKL-JNF forests around the country. But this year, 5775 according to the Hebrew calendar, is a sabbatical year for the land.

The JNF-KKL organization, which has planted more than 230 million trees since 1908, is instead offering different tree-related experiences this year: Be a Forester for a Day or free guided hikes along forest trails.

The wannabe foresters (who pay a fee) get gloves, boots and a big pair of pruning scissors before heading out to nature. They also get a certificate at the end of a day’s work.

While this idea sounded like a good alternative to planting this year, it turns out young children (I have three) aren’t allowed to take part.

So instead, we’ve been doing the next best ritual this New Year for Trees prescribes: consuming mass amounts of dried fruits. Go to any market or supermarket in Israel in the lead-up to Tu B’Shevat and you’ll see mounds of dried orange peels, kiwis, dates, prunes, figs, apricots, apples and nuts.

Casuarina (she-oak) Circle in Israel’s Ilanot Forest. Photo by Viva Sarah Press
Casuarina (she-oak) Circle in Israel’s Ilanot Forest. Photo by Viva Sarah Press

The holiday is celebrated on the 15th day (“Tu” is the acronym for the number 15 in Hebrew letters) of the Jewish month of Shevat – the day almond trees traditionally begin to bloom. In 2015, Tu B’Shevat falls on February 4.

And though there will be no new planting this year, the trees of Israel  are definitely deserving of birthday celebrations.

There are many ancient trees in Israel and each one has a story related to the country’s history. There’s an ancient olive tree at the Beit Gamal monastery outside the town of Beit Shemesh; a hundreds-of-years-old oak on a sloping hill outside Kibbutz Tzuba; and a tree at the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem whose wood is believed to have been used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Perhaps the best place to mark the holiday is at Ilanot Forest in the Sharon area. This arboretum on the outskirts of Kadima is Israel’s only one of its kind. A paved trail winds its way past more than 750 species of trees here.  Come alone or join the JNF-KKL Tu B’Shevat hike.

And what would a holiday for Israel’s trees be without an infusion of technology? Israeli high-tech and agri-tech are helping to keep plants and trees heartier . Israeli scientists have even developed a device that enables a tree to email the farmer when it’s thirsty.

Speaking of thirsty, it’s time to raise a l’chaim to Israel’s trees. Happy Birthday!