Tu Bishvat is the ancient/modern commemoration of the New Year for Trees. In Israel one cannot escape awareness of the flow of the agriculture-based Jewish calendar. Israel is the only country in the world with a Jewish majority culture. To be a Jew in Israel during a religious or national holiday is an uplifting and unique experience. I remember vividly my first Purim in Israel many years ago when I noticed that the bus driver was wearing a Purim costume and I remember thinking, “wow, even the bus drivers are Jewish!” Growing up in Western countries I keenly felt my minority status during the Christian holidays, specifically at the end of the year. It is still strange to be in a country where the 25th of December is just another day. Even after all of these years in Israel I am still in awe at the success of the Zionist enterprise, “the hope of two thousand years to be a free people in our own land.”
Tu Bishvat is a holiday that has received so much more significance since the advent of Zionism as it really connects us with our land and reminds us, in the words of Yoni Netanyahu, we are not just the “People of the Book” but very much people of the Land. So how do I know that Tu Bishvat is being celebrated in Israel? Well, there are a number of obvious signs:
- The Shekdia (Almond Tree), whose delicate white and pink blossoms are the symbol of the holiday, is in blossom
- Whatever the weather, the JNF tree planting stations across Israel are open
- There is Tu Bishvat music on the radio.
- Zionist youth movement members and schools hike to places of natural beauty.
- There are Tu Bishvat themed book displays in all the bookshops as the nation celebrates this national/religious holiday.
- The daily newspapers have both the secular and Hebrew dates as well as a picture of a politician or child planting a tree
- There is dried fruit everywhere, malls, work, train/bus stations…everywhere!
With all of the many issues Israel is wrestling and grappling with, both internally and externally, ranging from security, to societal, to environmental, when one takes a step back, one realizes that we can justifiably be proud of having accomplished so much.
Those young pioneers at the turn of the previous century who returned to the land had a dream. Their vision was to revive our land one tree at a time, our Hebrew language one word at a time and our ability to oversee our own destiny. Their vision was that, with the help of hard work, gritty determination and belief; “We would come to build the land, and the land would build us.” This dream has indeed become a reality. Tu Bishvat Sameach!