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Jews and Trees: The Relationship

Article by Rachelle Menshikova
Photo credits: Edward Kaprov, for more of Edward’s photos, go here.

Is there a special relationship between Jews and trees? There must be.

Planting a tree in Israel today, even if you’re the most secular Jew in the Diaspora, is a noble act and represents a strong connection to Israel.

Fact: Albert Einstein planted a tree in Palestine.

Another tree case in history, take the famous Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in his work “I and Thou”. There, Buber chooses to talk about five types of human relations with the world through examples of human relations with tress.

In Israel we have a strong national tradition of planting trees and bringing ‘green’ into our native landscape. Additionally, as Jews, we have a pattern to act and initiate change in post crisis situations.

About a month passed since the Carmel Fire of 2010, the worst wildfire in the Israel’s history. In the heat of the disaster more than 17,000 people were evacuated from there homes and 44 people died. In addition, the fire tore through the natural forest reserve of Israel, consuming over 5 million trees and 50,000 dunams of land (12,355 acres and ~1/3 of the nature reserve).

Fear, the emotion associated with fire, comes from our primal instincts and is powered by adrenaline and cortisol, drugs that can paralyze us or give us superhuman strength.

As an immediate response to the disaster and in efforts to counteract the fear that this will happen again, donations of trees and volunteers offering to replant Israel’s forests poured in from around the world. The Jewish National Fund raised upward of $1 million towards the Carmel cause and the head of the organization, Russel Robinson, vowed to replant the burned trees.

Not long after the immediate reactions and offerings there was a pause and a discussion that rather decided to wait and see first how the forest will regenerate itself. Hence this disaster provoked the people to re-evaluate the urge for immediate replanting and brought change and awareness to our national consciousness.

The shift from a tree-planting nation on Palestine’s bare hills to today’s genetic changes is an amazing metaphor to the transformation of the Israeli society. To clarify, according to Prof. Gabriel Shiller, a respected forest researcher, “the next generation of the native pine trees has genetic marks that do not belong to Israel.” (Ref. Article “The Day That After, The Day That Before”, by Gili Sopher, Masa Acher journal, #232, January 2011.)

From the first days of the Europeans’ arrival in the land of Levant, the settler’s dream was to make the land green and rich with foliage. By planting trees, these immigrants were also planting their dreams and, more than anything, their roots in this land. Roots play a key role in human life. Yet, just as not all greenhouse trees survive genetic alterations and transplants to foreign soil, there were also many immigrants who remained physically uprooted in the new land.

Some say that changing its landscape was a process of conquering the new land. This seems right, but it’s deeper than that. It reflects on the idea of “woods” in the psyche of these European pioneers. In Europe at the time, woods or forests provided warmth, food, and shelter to the people. Most European folklore was associated to woods. For instance the sacred and wise men were dwellers ‘deep in the woods.’ On the other hand, the desert for a European mind represents an idea of Nothingness. Perhaps this desire to turn our ancient land into Something-ness was an important drive in planting trees in sand and making the desert bloom.

Since, generations have passed, giving way to the new species of Israeli born Jews. Many will argue that Israelis have few remaining traits identifying with Diaspora Jews. Take, for instance, the worldwide-accepted archetype of a Jewish math and science genius. Then equate that mind to native-born Israelis where about half of the last generation’s children suffer from dyslexia. At least there are also positive examples to the Israeli-Jew phenomenon. But we’ll leave those for another entry.

Back to our tree analogy – metaphorically, we discussed a new nation raised on new soil, with a new root system, while undergoing the evolution of stress factors resulted in new genes to its people. Thus, if and when we look at the genome transformation of the Carmel reserve there are amazing symbolic connections to Israeli Jews.

In the earlier mentioned article, Masa Acher, one is stricken by the complexities of Carmel’s forest genetic fabric and fire consequences for the genome of the ecosystem. There were about 500 fires on the Carmel since 1978, each time disrupting the biometry of the forests and causing new tree plantations. Today, there is a fear of loosing the native pine tree of the forest. Already most of the pine trees on the Carmel Mountain are Jerusalem pine trees. These Jerusalem pines have what is known as the Mediterranean genome, unlike the native pine tree. The Jerusalem Pine naturally took over the land, as it is a stronger species genetically with a high heat resistance. This man made issue in addition to pollination details with the native pines on the mountain point that the next generation of the native pine trees will biologically have genetic marks that do not belong to Israel.

Sound familiar? Is this not a type of Darwin-like change, which if applied to humans and environment makes the world stronger and more resistant? Apparently not, because, “for the gene pool,” says Prof. Gabriel Shiller, “fire is a disaster for the reserve. Unlike humans, in the vegetable kingdom the purity of genes is essential for healthy ecosystems.”

In conclusion, although there is a connection between Jews and trees, it’s about time to acknowledge the environmental ethics of each ecosystem to make our relationships with trees deeper. I believe we are now in a right direction.

Original article published on Leadel.net

3 Comments

  1. DK

    1/26/2011 at 9:15 am

    Then equate that mind to native-born Israelis where about half of the last generation’s children suffer from dyslexia.

    What are you talking about?

  2. RJB

    1/26/2011 at 10:21 am

    I do believe that Jews have a special care for trees and an obligation to preserve and increase trees in Israel. Furthermore, my sister’s name is Elana.

    Thank you to judaism.com for their offer of “Buy a Tee, Give a Tree” and for reminding me that “As my fathers planted for me, so I plant for my children.”
    (And for directing me to this article)

  3. themiddle

    1/29/2011 at 6:05 pm

    The bird photo is beautiful.

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