Planting the future of the blue fringe: Ptil Tekhelet launches new visitor center

Tu Bishvat may be in the middle of the winter, but it has come to symbolize the portent of spring and new beginnings. In that vein, the Ptil Tekhelet organization, which produces the Biblical blue dyed strings for the tzitzit fringes, chose the date to launch its new and ambitious project, the building of a new Visitor Center, adjacent to the current factory in Kfar Adumim. On Friday, February 10, 2017, the eve of Tu Bishvat, my son and I joined a group of friends and supporters who gathered to inaugurate the project.  The featured speaker was Dr. Moshe Raanan, a biology lecturer, author and expert in flora and fauna of the Land of Israel. In the spirit of Tu Bishvat he delivered a fascinating lecture delving into the significance of the carob tree in rabbinic literature. The group then proceeded outside to plant various trees, including, of course, a carob, around the perimeter of the planned Visitor Center.

While many of the participants were long time followers of the Tekhelet revival, there were some uninitiated visitors as well. In their honor, Dr. Baruch Sterman, one of the founders, provided a tour of the factory as well as a fascinating dyeing demonstration. Dr. Ari Greenspan, chairman of the foundation, gave a short and impassioned inaugural speech. He put in perspective just how revolutionary the foundation’s work has been. Twenty-five years ago, if you had stopped a Jew in the street and asked him what Tekhelet was, he probably would not have known, or would have provided a biblical/historical answer. Today, whether that individual actually wears the Tekhelet strings or not, he will most likely be able to tell you that the dye comes from a snail, and that many people today wear blue fringes on their tallit.

The modest factory produces several thousand sets of Tekhelet strings a month, which are worn throughout the world. The organization is dedicated to educational programs as well. In addition to hosting lectures and publishing literature on all topics related to Tekhelet, they have a new website full of information, they provide interactive tours of the factory, at-home dye kits, as well as a family-friendly snorkeling tour on Dor beach. The demand for these multidisciplinary educational experiences, which combine halacha, archaeology, bible, history, chemistry, linguistics, numismatics, and biology has increased to such an extent, that the organization has decided it is time to build a world class educational center.

The morning was organized by Joel Guberman, co-founder and on-site manager of the factory. As is typical of the many events he has put together during the 25 years of operation, from start to finish it was thoughtfully executed, the wine and cheese tastefully complementing the Tu Bishvat fruits. The enthusiasm for the planting of the trees and plants matched the anticipation of this exciting new endeavor, as well as the sense of awe at how much has been accomplished since the revival of the tekhelet dying process.

The event concluded with an unplanned treat. As guests were busy digging, planting, and watering, board member Zvi Sand remembered that he had a drone in his car. He ran to get it and excitedly launched it above the factory, offering to provide aerial footage of the site and the newly planted trees. The hope is that this new Visitor Center, too, will both take root and soar to the sky.

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About the Author
Ari Zivotofsky is a professor of neuroscience at Bar Ilan University. Also trained as a rabbi and shochet, he has a masters degree in Jewish history. He has written extensively on topics of Jewish history, culture, and traditions, in particular in Mishpacha magazine and in his regular column (now running 20+ years) in the OU magazine Jewish Action.
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