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JNF Wire: Ancient Seeds Help the Negev Bloom for Tu BiShvat

Methuselah is considered to have been the oldest living man in the Torah, reaching the esteemed age of 969. It is only appropriate that the date palm that sprouted from a 2,000 year-old seed at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) in Southern Israel, carries the same moniker. 

Dr. Elaine Solowey, director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at AIES and an expert in crops appropriate for arid lands, was very skeptical at the possibility of taking ancient seeds and producing something viable from them. With only six seeds, recovered by the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center of the Hadassah Medical Organization from excavations at Masada in the 1960s, she set out to cultivate a Judean date palm. While native to Israel and the area surrounding it, the Judean date palm is a species that has not been seen there for over a millennia.

Seven years ago, a male date palm sprouted from one of those ancient seeds, leaving many in awe of what was thought to be a botanically impossible feat. 

"It has become a major attraction here at the Institute," Executive Director of AIES David Lehrer said about the now-mature Methuselah at its home on Kibbutz Ketura, located in the Arava just north of Eilat. Lehrer explained that AIES’s dream is to reintroduce the Judean date palm to the State of Israel as a valuable crop and for its unique medicinal properties.

This and other agricultural projects from AIES are made possible by the Institute's partnership with Jewish National Fund (JNF). Together, JNF and AIES are turning the world's attention to the wealth of knowledge and research coming out of the Negev desert, with a focus on fields of hyper-arid nature conservation and water management.  

Methuselah is actually a part of a larger project of Dr. Solowey's, and with this success she plans to create a center for the study of ancient, extinct, and endangered seeds. "We want to make sure that endangered plant species don’t disappear from Israel's landscape," said Lehrer. "We are looking for good uses for native plants which are under threat," he added, emphasizing the medicinal qualities that are just the beginning of what is to be discovered about these Israeli plants. 
It is fitting to highlight Methuselah’s rebirth in light of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Tu BiShvat, which is also known as the "New Year of the Trees." Beyond the fact that dates are one of the "Seven Species" that are customarily consumed on this holiday, the incredible story of the modern-day Methuselah provides us with an opportunity to reconnect with nature in a thoughtful and creative way. 

"In some ways, nature is under threat," Lehrer said. It's important that human beings remember that our role in this world is to continue to nurture nature and to 'take care of the garden.' The Bible tells us that if we ruin it, there won't be anyone to come after us and fix it." 

Both the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and Jewish National Fund are striving to build and support projects that "take care of the garden" to ensure continued life and success in Israel's bountiful Negev desert, and in turn the world, for years to come.

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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