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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Our New Year for Trees: New Facts of Trees' Importance

Nadene Goldfoot
We Jews celebrated a holiday called the "New Year for Trees," known as  Tu B'Shevat on February 8th this year (15th of Shevat) , but the Oregonian came out with a very interesting editorial today by Jim Robbins in Helena, Montana telling us some new facts about how trees are essential to a greener and healthier world. 

We have had a reverence for trees ever since Moses,  who told us, after the first 10 commandments 613 other things.  We were to learn that it was important to know the age of a tree so as to know the maturation of the fruit of the tree.  We were not to eat the fruit until it was of a tree 4 years old or older.  Thus, we celebrate the birthday of a tree! 

We tithe trees of this age; no younger.  This is about the time that sap begins to flow once again, marking the rebirth of the tree following its winter hibernation. 

In Safed, Israel, where I lived for 4+ years, the first Seder (special dinner ceremony- in this case eating fruit only in a special order with lecture and prayers) was created by Cabbalists around this holiday that had led to planting trees at this time. I was able to join a Seder for Tu B'Shevat there.   Also, I planted a tree with the help of a gardener-helper who was an Arab in my first year of living in Israel. 

People enjoyed eating fruits from trees in a very scientifically  organized  listing.  Kabbalists had their own list of fruit organization.  The highest and purest level of fruits created were the ones that the whole fruit could be eaten such as carob, apples, oranges, grapes, figs.  The lowest levels were fruits that would have the greatest need for protection, such as nuts, coconuts, and pomegranates.  They would stay up almost all night reciting and studying passages from the Bible (Torah) , Mishnah, Talmud and Zohar which spoke about fruit and trees.  They had study sessions about them and in between would eat the fruits they just read about.   Finding reference to trees in so many books shows just how important they were to the culture.  One fact I remember is if you are in the middle of planting a tree and the Moshiach arrives you are to finish planting the tree and then go to greet him. 

Trees and the environment were considered in times of war as well.  Soldiers are not to cut down fruit trees of an enemy.  They are not to destroy without purpose.  Deut 20: 19-20 .  They are not to cut off water sources that fruit trees use.  This is all quoted from the Torah, Rabbinic and mystical sources as well. 

Men started planting trees on this day, which became an Arbor Day way before one was created in the United States.  If one didn't live in Israel, one gave money to plant trees there.  We plant trees where we live and in Israel where there are forests of trees planted by people living outside of the state.  One thing tourists like to do is visit their tree or trees when there. 

Robbins wrote that " a walk in the woods, researchers say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and viruses.  Studies in inner cities show that anxiety, depression and even crime are lower in a landscaped environment." 

He found out that Texas Department of forestry has estimated that their shade trees that have died off (and evidently haven't been replaced) will cost Texans  hundreds of millions of dollars more for air conditioning.  Trees sequester or isolate or set apart, carbon, which is a greenhouse gas that makes the planet warmer.  Trees are nature's water filters.  They clean up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes.  How they do this is through a family of microbes around the trees' roots that clean water in exchange for food, called phytoremediation.  The leaves also filter air pollution.  This is why we are told to have folliage inside our homes to have cleaner air. 

I'm lucky to live in Western Oregon where trees and rain are the accepted way of life.  The rain is just now stopping long enough for people to get out and plant more trees.  In Portland we have a wonderful forest "Forest Park" right in the heart of the city where people can go for hikes on a hot summer day and be comfortable.  It was created in 1860 by our early pioneers and covers over 5,100 acres of land in our Tualatin Mt. range extending about 8 miles.  It is one of the largest urban forest reserves in the United States.   No wonder I keep meeting transplants from the East Coast.  Trees are such an asset to our life.. 

This was one thing that caused me to settle in Safed, Israel.  Safed, on top of a mountain, had fir trees.  They were shorter than our Northwest fir trees, but they were there, nevertheless.  A short drive from my apartment building was a forest.  When I was terribly homesick, I would go there and breathe in the air and the smell of the trees. 

Reference: The Jewish Catalog by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld, Sharon Strassfeld
Oregonian Newspaper, Sunday, April 15, 2012, page B10 Trees essential to a greener world by Jim Robbins,_Oregon)

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