Did you know that in Israel, trees are considered so precious that you need a permit to chop one down, even if it’s on your own property? It’s true: Jews are natural born tree-huggers. And just as we celebrate Arbor Day in America, Judaism has the holiday of Tu B’Shvat. Known as “Festival of the Trees,” the holiday, which this year falls on February 10th, is celebrated as a sort of Jewish Earth Day, with Tu B’shvat seders and tree plantings — the latter of which looms large in Jewish tradition.
Planting a tree signifies hope, since it represents the optimism that future generations will live to see that tree grow to maturity. “Just as my ancestors planted for me, so I will plant for my children,” says the Talmud. In fact, the Talmud says — with a ring of Sholom Aleichem-like humor — that tree-planting is so important that if you’re holding a sapling and happen to see the Messiah coming, “first plant the tree, then greet the Moshiach.”
As a practical matter, modern-day Israel puts just as much emphasis on trees. Careful reforestation efforts over the past century by the Jewish National Fund have transformed deserts into farmland and even forests. Maintaining and replacing millions of hand-planted trees requires constant care, but Israelis insist the effort is well worth it for the environmental benefits, like improving air quality, absorbing greenhouse gases, providing shade, improving storm water control, reducing summertime air temperature through the release of water vapor and adding a cheerful dose of nature to city landscapes.
All those reasons also hold true in Philadelphia, which is why recently Philly has also made a huge commitment to planting trees. The city forestry program TreePhilly has provided over 21,500 free trees for planting in city streets and yards; and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society plants over 1,000 trees throughout the region every year, plus trains local volunteers on tree maintenance to ensure their survival. So for Tu B’shevat this year, get in touch with your inner tree hugger! Sign up to become a Tree Tender in your community and join the movement to make our world a little greener.