The Jewish National Fund hopes to plant as many as 12,000 trees this year through a student–based program to raise interest in the activity.
Through Trees for Tu BiShvat, as the program is known, each student who plants a tree will receive a JNF tree certificate. Students who plant more than one tree are eligible to win prizes, and schools that plant over 100 trees will receive a special plaque and will be designated as a Tree Topper school to be permanently recognized at JNF’s American Independence Park in Jerusalem.
Six Pittsburgh area schools — Adat Shalom Religious School, Beth El Congregation Religious School, Community Day School, Rodef Shalom Religious School, Temple Emanuel Torah Center Religious School, Temple Sinai Religious School — are participating.
One of the schools — Community Day — is among the 48 schools across the country designated as a “Tree Topper,” and has committed to plant 100 trees this year.
“What we formally call Trees for Tu BiShvat has been around for the last eight years or more,” said Michelle Wachtel, JNF education programs manager, “but children through their religious schools have been planting trees in Israel for the past 50 years, so it certainly has a long history.”
Tu B’Shevat, commonly known as the New Year for Trees, falls on Saturday Jan. 30. Congregations around the city and suburbs will celebrate this Shabbat with seders consisting of foods from Israel and four glasses of mixed white and red wine to symbolize the changing seasons.
Tu B’Shevat, which literally means the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, traditionally exists for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing, according to Leviticus 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year’s fruit is for God and after that, you can eat the fruit.
But in modern times, the holiday has also evolved into an Earth Day for Jews.
Community Day instructors Lindsey Levine and Eddie Shaw are actively involved in the Trees for Tu BiShvat program. Levine said they and other instructors have used JNF-provided materials in the classroom to teach about environmental issues in Pittsburgh and in Israel.
Trees for Tu BiShvat planted 10,500 trees last year.
“That was slightly down (from the previous year),” Wachtell said, “but we generally plant 10,000 to 12,000 trees through this program.”
In the past, the program has focused on specific needs in the country. Following the war in Lebanon in 2006 in which Hezbollah-fired Katuysha rockets destroyed thousands of trees in the Galilee, JNF announced that all the trees purchased in that year’s Trees for Tu BiShvat would be planted in northern Israel to replace the ones lost.
“This year, our theme is, Going Back to Basics: Plant a Tree to Celebrate Tu B’Shevat,” Wachtell said. “Just remind people that planting trees in Israel is really the way to celebrate this holiday.”
“Our posters say getting back to our roots,” she added. “We love the tree puns.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)