By David Bedein, Middle East Correspondent for The Bulletin (Philadelphia, PA)
Saturday, February 6 will be the observation of Tu Bshvat on the Hebrew calendar, the 15th of Shvat, the Jewish arbor day, a day when the Jewish people bid a “happy birthday to the Land of Israel.”
One rabbi, known as “the Ari of Tzfat,” declared in the 16th Century that Tu Bshvat should be celebrated as the real Jewish New Year.
In the modern era, Tu Bshvat combines a heavenly commitment of love for the land of Israel with the Zionist enterprise in order to make the Land bloom in the modern era.
The organization in charge of planting trees in the land of Israel, after two millennia of desolation, is known as the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
This is how the momentum of tree planting in the land of Israel has progressed over the past 90 years:
In 1920, the year the JNF was established, there were 14,000 dunams (a measurement of one-quarter of an acre) of planted forests in the land of Israel. By 1942 there were already 35,000 dunams of forest, and more than a half a million in 1980.
Israel is the only country in the world that will have more trees in its territory this year than it did in 1910. The trees that will be planted this year during the annual Tu Bishvat celebrations are part of the JNF’s “A Tree for Every Resident” program.
“In the framework of the program we are going to plant seven-and-a-half million trees,” said Efi Stentzler, the JNF chairman. “A tree for every resident of Israel. Our project is part of a global project that was announced by the UN, the goal of which is to fight the causes of pollution that humanity is responsible for.”
Forests currently cover some 1.6 million dunams of land in the state of Israel. A million of those dunams are administered by the Jewish National Fund.
The JNF has planted more than 240 million trees to date. The national master plan envisions another 300,000 dunams of available land to be covered with forests. This year, between 15,000 and 20,000 dunams of land will be forested. Tree-planting season ends in March. The saplings are provided by the JNF nurseries, which produce 1.2 million saplings every year.
In 1960, pine trees accounted for 85 percent of all trees planted in Israel, which made them the icon of JNF planting in Israel. In recent years, pine trees have come to account for under one-third of the trees planted. Rather, 70 percent of all saplings planted are indigenous trees.
The JNF plants 150 different kinds of trees and invests an average of five million dollars every year for that purpose. The JNF has recorded in a special diary an account of all plantings since Israel was re-established. In 1991, that diary was computerized.
The largest forest in Israel is the Yatir Forest, which is spread over 40,000 dunams, half of which are desert. The smallest forest is the Dalton Forest, which is on a modest 42 dunams of land.
The first forest ever planted by the JNF is the Ben Shemen Forest —which was initially called the Herzl Forest and consisted of just 18 olive trees.