Dear Friend of Israel,
On January 31, Jews around the world observe the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, also known as “The New Year of the Trees” – a celebration of God’s creation.
There are many ways we celebrate Tu B’Shvat. Some Jewish people eat one of the Seven Species, foods mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:7-9 as being part of Israel’s abundance: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and dates (or date honey). Some people plant parsley so that it will be ready in time for the seder, the meal that is a central part of the observance of Passover.
People also plant trees on this holiday. The very fact that there are so many trees in Israel is cause for wonder and thanksgiving. When the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948, it certainly did not look like “the land flowing with milk and honey” God promised the Israelites they would inhabit when they entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 31:20). In fact, it better resembled the land described by Mark Twain, who visited in 1867 and later wrote, “Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
Like Moses, Joshua, and the Jewish people in biblical times before them, Israel’s founders were faced with land that appeared inhospitable – so much so that the British, who ruled the area before them, thought it could only sustain life for 2 million people.
Today, the land sustains many times that number. Following the call of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, to “make the desert bloom,” Israelis not only made the land habitable, they made it fruitful. Israel’s water circulation and reclamation system is a wonder of ingenuity. Drip irrigation perfected in Israel has not only made large parts of previously barren land arable, it has allowed farmers around the world to work more efficiently, helping to feed millions of hungry people. In 1948, trees covered just two percent of the land; today that figure stands at 8.5 percent.
This, my friends, is truly a miracle. The prophet Isaiah wrote of the day when God would transform the land of Israel, making “her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord” (Isaiah 51:3). Thanks to the God-given ingenuity of Israel’s founders, and the continued technological innovation of Israelis today, this prophecy has been fulfilled. At Tu B’Shvat – as on every day – we give thanks to God for the privilege of seeing it come to pass in our lifetime.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President
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