Ronnie Katz Gerber
Communications Chair, Hadassah Los Angeles Metro Region

Tu B’Shevat Hadassah

This time of year, this month, we celebrate Tu B’Shevat. We find renewal and rebirth in trees. It’s the Israeli version of Arbor Day. This seems strange to us in the middle of January but it’s a time of eating from the seven fruits or species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat and barley, vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and dates. There’s even a tradition in Kabballah that includes a special service or seder to celebrate a new year of trees. In this tradition it is said that the mystical aspects of fruits and their place in creation are revealed.

In the beginning, we were told we could eat the fruit of all the trees but one. Having eaten from that one, anyway or accidentally, we were exiled from Paradise. So, the old story goes.

But here’s a new and modern story being told and lived in Israel today. It’s the story of the Hula Valley. It starts with an ancient trade route across the Middle East. It’s quite well known and very well-travelled. The traders would ride their boats, walk their camels and their wagons through the Upper Galilee and its sumptuous valley. An oasis of sorts right in the middle of the desert — where else!

That’s Israel — a land of beauty and paradox to be sure.

Then, one day in the not-so-distant past, the clever British came (starting in 1937) and saw that malaria was caused by mosquitoes. And swamps can breed happy mosquitoes. And mosquitoes were thriving in this lush area. It was killing tradesmen and trade between so many places of rich exchange.

What to do? Well, it’s the Joni Mitchell verse: they paved paradise and put up a parking lot. They drained the swamp. Voila — a safe path, mosquito-free, is provided for all travelers. And the desert reclaimed its barren aspect. Lo and behold! An ecological and agricultural shift occurred. The plants, animals, insects, LIFE that was feeding the Middle East in the Upper Galilee Valley was corrupted, spoiled, stopped. There was hell to pay. Especially since malaria could be cured by medicine. Don’t you just love the New Age? But no idea what to do to allow for thriving trade and happy eco-structure. We need a shidduch.

Talk about a need for trees. The Israelis recognized the problem with its long-and short-term dangers and proceeded to reclaim the land. Engineers, park planners, ecological scientists and researchers, agricultural historians gathered, and the valley was, inch by careful inch, restored to its former beauty and service. A natural preserve/conserve was created with paths for foot traffic. No trade happens directly on this route but is rerouted to easily bypass and not endanger natural species, land, economy or man. By 1964, the Upper Galilee’s Hula Nature Reserve was registered and designated with protective rights for long into the future, with no sunset clause.

We need our ecology and agriculture to thrive as it did to provide food and earth nurture to all living creatures in that region — us among the many. Cranes and tens of thousands of migrating birds from Finland and Ethiopia have a stopover there. Israeli farmers set out food for the birds, so they don’t eat the planted crops near the lake. Birds fly from Europe to Africa, and back. This is their water hole — their stopover — their hotel/home.

Many other life forms are found in this region. The extinct painted frog for one. I watched a Hula Valley Natural Reserve You Tube video. The video allowed me to take a virtual walk along the path of the preserve to a lookout structure. Along the way, I fell in love with a turtle and an otter. The turtle was just majestic, lazy, and hidden wisely among river rocks. But the otter — he came ashore and like a young child would, washed his face in the clear bank water and wiped the mud from his saturated fur with his cute little paws. There were so many colorful birds perched or nesting or mid-flight among the trees, it felt like a rolling rainbow at times. And even the insects and fish were bright and colorful.  Oh, I saw a catfish too –a little non-kosher eco-booster.

Now, how does Hadassah fit into this landscape? I’m sure we’re all aware of the plant a tree memorial campaign that’s been thriving forever. That’s really all we’re known for as far as the re-treeing or replenishing of the earth in Israel is concerned.

Hadassah’s newest tree-planting initiative, in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) is the Hadassah Shade Tree Garden at the Eshkol Resilience Center, where thousands of Israelis are treated annually for PTSD.

It’s January in California and throughout Israel. Tu B’Shevat makes us all aware of climate change, eco-structure and how they relate to business development. Let’s unify and plant some trees. It keeps “ever” in forever. And it keeps Hadassah strong — for a stronger and even more beautiful Israel.

About the Author
Ronnie Katz Gerber is currently Communications Chair for the Hadassah Metro Los Angeles Region. A retired English and drama teacher for one of the largest school districts in California, she has written, directed and produced a handful of curriculum-based plays for her students and received a Los Angeles Awards nomination for her educational outreach through the arts. She has now turned her attention to columns, articles and short stories. Ms. Gerber is active in the community doing volunteer work and also spends her time pursuing her avid interest in travel. She has visited most of Europe, Russia and Africa, China and a bit of South America as well. Most springs, she hosts foreign exchange students for a month while they take an American culture and language crash course at a local university. As a result, she has spent time with them and their families abroad. Her family, especially her grand girls are the best activity of any day.
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