JNF Wire: Tu BiShvat in Tel Aviv Reconnects Hundreds to Israel's Roots
Tu BiShvat in Tel Aviv Reconnects Hundreds to Israel's Roots
By: Shira Nussdorf
Heavy winds and driving rain could not dampen spirits at the Tel Aviv Tu BiShvat Wine and Cheese Tasting Seder this past Sunday night. Hundreds of young Jews from different backgrounds gathered together at this JNFuture Israel event to learn traditional Tu BiShvat customs using the latest technology. “I came all the way from Jerusalem to check out this scene,” said Ahuva Moses, a sociologist from New York City. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The guests varied in ages, including students and new olim (immigrants), JNFuture members, and a rabbi to lead the event. Rabbi Shlomo Chayen, with a glass in one hand and an iPhone in the other, challenged the crowd to participate in a Jewish-themed trivia game. Winners received a bottle of wine from a Golan winery as participants learned blessings.
Eric Schorr, an oleh (immigrant) from Philadelphia, won ‘Best Zionist.’ “I love Israel because I was born to an American father and Israeli mother. I was raised and taught from an early age that Israel was a really special place for our people. I'm also the grandson of Holocaust survivors, so that also played a role in my belief that we need to always protect and defend Israel.”
Schorr contributed his ability to assimilate into Israeli society thanks to the work the Am Yisrael Foundation, a partner of Jewish National Fund (JNF) that operates the JNFuture chapter in Israel. “The Am Yisrael Foundation has been the catalyst for me finding my sense of community, not only in Tel Aviv but in Israel as a whole. Without their programing, I don't think my klita (absorption) to Israel would have been that easy, let alone as meaningful.”
Jay Shultz (at far left in photo at right, with JNF's Yael Levontin, Russell F. Robinson and Eric Michaelson), the founder of the Am Yisrael Foundation, smiled proudly as the room buzzed with young people reconnecting with Zionism. “There is a deep need for young Jews who make aliyah and those born in Israel to connect to their ability to subsequently invest in the future of the Jewish people, spiritually, physically and emotionally.” Shultz added that “Through the various projects of the Am Yisrael Foundation, and with partners like JNFuture Israel, we have the ability and honor of being part of the next thousand years of history. That’s part of what we’re doing here tonight. Tu BiShvat is about the deep connection to the land.”
For many Jews around the world, Tu BiShvat celebrates the birthday of the trees, and for more than a century, JNF has contributed towards global Jewry by planting trees in Israel. Russell F. Robinson, CEO of JNF, recounted its history and role in the creation of modern Israel: “People were scattered throughout the world and, not of having the ability to email or text message, we literally sent letters inviting everyone to come together to repurchase the land of Israel for the Jewish people everywhere. The borders of Israel were drawn by JNF in Vienna in 1901. Imagine if those people were unified in 1939. Imagine that six million people could have had a place to call home and not a place to go to their death.”
Robinson also spoke of the importance of planting trees in what later became the State of Israel, and how JNF became known for its role in forestation. “Why is Israel the only country with pine forests? JNF was buying swamp lands that nobody would live in from anybody who would sell it. Trees were planted there for ownership and this historically links us to Tu BiShvat. We taught people to invest in the world, and we were the originators of Earth Day.”
Adam Scott Bellos agreed, “We recognized 3,000 years ago the importance of the trees. Israel is the only country to enter the 21st century with more trees than it had in the 20th century. There are universal values which we exude to the outside world and one of them is the importance of trees in the world and the preservation of nature. Tu BiShvat is kind of that day when Jews get together and hug a tree.”
Tanya Greenberg, who originally made aliyah from South Africa, thought the Tu BiShvat celebration was a great way to bring the Tel Aviv community together. “It was such a treat to be part of the Tu BiShvat ceremony. As an olah from South Africa living in Tel Aviv, it is incredibly special to see the constant growth of the community, and it was interesting to learn history with new friends.”
Rabbi Chayen (in photo at left), who made aliyah when he was only a toddler, praised the event for bringing new olim and Israelis together to learn about his important holiday. Rabbi Chayen characterized the event as being made up of “tropical trees with different backgrounds and ways of thought. On this night, we deepened our understanding of the earth by creating a strong unity with our roots.”
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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 www.jnf.org.