By Zanna Linskaia
While in North America it is still the middle of winter, in Israel there
are signs of spring. It is time of the year for Tu-b'Shevat – New Year of
trees, which we celebrate this year on January 16. The meaning of
Tu-b'Shevat, 15 th day of month Shevat, comes from the Hebrew letters
tet – 9 and vav – 6, according to Gematria, Jewish numerology, that
were taken very seriously by mystics.
Historically, Tu-b'Shevat was an agricultural holiday. Believe you or
not, in ancient Israel it was tax placed on fruits on this day. Again,
Jews are responsible even for this!
When Jews were exiled from Israel and lived in Diaspora, Tu-b'Shevat
became a connection between countries and the land of Israel. It has
begun a mitzvah to eat fruits on this day, especially figs, grapes and
carob – the fruits of Eretz Israel.
In different African and Asian countries Jews even created a special
Tu-b'Shevat Seder, taking for model Passover Seder and reading the
parts of Torah and Talmud with blessing over the fruits.
In modern time it is custom to plant the trees in Israel. The famous
Canadian philanthropist rabbi Morris Wosk, the founder of Burquest
Shaarei Mizrah, many years ago bought a piece of land in Israel for
Burquest alley of trees. There you can plant a tree in memory or
special event of beloved ones via Jewish National Fund. JNF was
founded in 1901 by Theodor Herzl to buy land in Ottoman Palestine
for Jewish settlement. Rothschild’s family, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth
Taylor and others donated millions of dollars to plant forests in Eretz
Israel. From that time, JNF has planted over 250 million trees, more
than 1,000 parks and hundreds of nature projects. Currently, areas of
focus are the Carmel Forest and the Negev Desert.