Updated: Jan 27
The importance of trees in Israel
A little more than a week ago, we celebrated Tu B'Shvat, the holiday of the trees. Usually Israeli school children bring home saplings to plant in gardens in honor of the holiday, but this is a Sh’nat Shmita or a Sabbatical Year, when the land should lay fallow (you can read more about Shmita here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmita) and so many school children have brought home paper flowers and the like. Still the importance of trees in the Land of Israel cannot be underestimated.
To emphasize this point, it's worthy to note that under the Ottoman Empire (19th and early 20th centuries), the Ottomans stripped Israel of our natural reserves of pine and oak trees to build railways across their empire. Countering this ecological nightmare, The Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael or The Jewish National Fund)(or KKL-JNF) has planted in Israel more than 185 million trees - creating 280 forests(!), since it was founded in 1901 and is still actively planting today. You can read more about the KKL-JNF here: https://www.kkl-jnf.org/
A 4,000-Year-old olive tree – still baring fruit!
Happily not all Israel’s ancient trees were lost and so together, let’s meet a truly ancient tree! Not far from the northern community of Sh’faram, once home to the Sanhedrin, a 4,000-year-old olive tree was discovered! Yes, it's still bearing fruit and boasts a trunk so wide that it takes 11 people to embrace this tree, according to KKL-JNF Forest Official, Suhail Zidane.
Photo credit: Asaf Magal - Ynet
It's not clear whether this tree dates all the way back to Abraham, but it certainly witnessed the Israelites entering the Land after the death of Moses, the unification of the tribes under King David, the building and destruction of two Temples, the development of the Jerusalem Talmud and the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in 1948. If you're lucky to visit Israel in the fall during olive harvest season, take a detour to Sh'faram and harvest olives from the oldest tree in Israel and possibly the oldest olive tree in the world!
The Olive – the National Tree of Israel
And one final ‘tree-worthy’ note. Did you know that Israel has a National Tree? The KKL-JNF launched a National Tree Campaign in 2021 in honor of the organization's 120th anniversary. The 'finalist' trees were the palm, Tabor oak, cedar, eucalyptus, fig, terebinth and the olive tree.
The olive tree was voted the national tree, which seems the natural choice, as this tree appears again and again in Jewish and Israeli symbology; from its appearance on the State of Israel seal, mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the dove returns to Noah's Ark carrying an olive branch in her mouth and is one of the Seven Species (Sheva Minim) of the Land of Israel. The popularity of the olive tree and of olive oil throughout the ages is also evident in the numerous olive presses found in archaeological digs throughout the country. Today Israel boasts about 85,000 acres of olive tree plantations!
Trees and forests are one of Israel’s natural treasures and part of the legacy we want our children and grandchildren to inherit, enjoy and continue to nurture and grow.
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