December 19, 2010, Updated September 14, 2012

In an ironic twist, a Christmas tree fashioned of recycled bottles in the northern city of Haifa went up the day the nearby forests burned down.

Recycled tree at night

Lit up by energy-efficient LED lights, the tree sends a message not just of celebration but also environmental education.

On the day that industrial designer Hadas Itzcovitch’s 38-foot-high Christmas tree crafted of 5,480 recycled plastic bottles was erected in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, one of the worst fires in the country’s history ignited on the nearby Carmel Mountain. The fire caused the deaths of 44 people and destroyed an estimated five million trees.

Ironically the recycled Christmas tree, lit up by energy-efficient LED lights at night, sends a message about the importance of forests and environmental education. While the Carmel fire, set accidentally by a youngster, shows a growing need for environmental awareness in Israel.

When the fire broke out and began raging out of control, Itzcovitch asked the Haifa Municipality, which had commissioned the tree, if perhaps it wasn’t the right time to put it up.

The tree was intended as a tribute to the three major religions that co-exist in Haifa and was to mark the upcoming Festival of Festivals. The event was being organized to celebrate Eid, Christmas and Hanukkah, representing Islam, Christianity and Judaism. As the fire raged, a decision was made to postpone the festival for a week.

“It took one month to build the tree,” 30-year-old Itzcovitch tells ISRAEL21c. “While we were building it in the ground we saw the fire on the mountain.” And they could smell it, too. “It was everywhere. I asked the city if perhaps we shouldn’t put it up. They said if not now, it will be lost.”

A tree twice as high

It was probably a good idea to go ahead. The police had already been sent to cordon off the street as the tree formed of recycled bottles collected from residents of the port city was hoisted at a busy intersection.

Recycled Christmas tree

The 38-foot tree in Haifa is crafted of 5,480 recycled bottles.

International media from all corners of the earth are writing about the recycled bottle Christmas tree, and it’s important to Itzcovitch that they get the story right, and not report that it was developed in response to the fire, but rather commissioned before and coincidentally erected on the day the fire started.

Born and raised in a suburb of Haifa called Kiriyat Bialik, today Itzcovitch lives in Tel Aviv with her boyfriend and works as a freelance industrial designer. In between projects which include elements of green design, she lectures at nearby universities and colleges, teaching students from high-school age and up about innovations in recycled materials and energy efficiency.

The “green” Christmas tree idea was all hers. She told the city that with the same budget they’d set aside for their 20-foot Christmas tree, she could build one twice as high, using recycled materials. The committee was ecstatic, she reports.

“I told them I could take this budget and double the tree in height and make it with recycled bottles. And it would be good for the environment, too. They said ‘build it as high as you can.’

A tree with a message

Enlisting the help of her handyman father, a retired businessman and artist from Kiriyat Haim near Haifa, Itzcovitch developed the vision, and her dad Ernest Itzcovitch helped to construct the tree, including its metal frame.

Artist Hadas Itzcovitch

Artist Hadas Itzcovitch urged the Haifa municipality to use their budget for a real tree, to make one out of recycled materials instead.

Itzcovitch junior studied industrial design at Israel’s Holon Industrial Design School, subsequently earning a second degree in industrial design from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, a university in Haifa which focuses on science and new materials development.

Growing up in Haifa, the Carmel Forest was Itzcovitch’s refuge, as it was for many other kids and their families in the city, who would explore the UNESCO protected bio-reserve when walking and picnicking in it on weekends and holidays.

She hopes her tree will be an important environmental message for all the people of Haifa: The goal of building this Christmas tree was to make the people of Haifa happy – to show that people can live in harmony – with nature, and with each other.

“My hope is to keep the tree growing every year because they plan on using it next year, too. It’s a cone so it expands easily. I could add a half meter [1.6 feet] every year.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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