Today is Tu b’Shevat; The 15 day of the Jewish month of Shvat , known also as the new year for trees.

Planting a tress in Israel is a a Mitzvah (a good deed) that dates back to biblical times. In Leviticus 19:23, it states:

“When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden[b]. For three years you are to consider it forbidden [c]. It must not be eaten.”

My mother was born on Tu b’Shevat and so was given the name Ilana (Ilan is the Hebrew word for tree). Today, we have the pleasure of celebrating her birthday, 75 years young! Wanting to follow in this tradition of trees, myself and my siblings were given names that are connected.

  1. Erez – Cedar Tree
  2. Amir – The top branches of a tree, canopy, crown
  3. Neta – A young plant that grows into a tree, sapling

I am always joking that she picked the wrong tree for me.

In Amos 2:9 it is written, “I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below.” Anyone that knows me can see the irony in this name.

My first girlfriend at the age of 18 was Arza (the feminine form of Erez) and she was tall and beautiful and we were constantly being nagged by our friends: “Eres and Arza forever”. The last time I saw her was when I was 18 and in the army. This article has inspired me to look her up. Thank goodness for Facebook!

The first time I ever saw an Erez tree was as a young soldier serving in Lebanon during the war in 1982. It made me think of King Solomon, shipping all the Cedars from Lebanon to Jerusalem in order to construct the first Jewish temple. In Kings A:5 Hiram sent word to Soloman: :I have received the message you sent me and will do all you want in providing the Cedar and Juniper logs. My men will haul them down from Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea, and I will gloat them as rafts by sea to the place you specify. There I will separate them and you can take them away. And you are to grany my wish by providing food for my royal household.”

Erez in front of an Erez

Though I saw my first Cedar as a young man, the most emotional siting happened four years ago in the Galilee. I was hiking from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee with my son, Ido, for his Bar Mitzvah.

The most famous Erez in Israel is actually known as Herzl’s tree. While visiting Israel in 1898, Theodore Herzl was in the holy land. He did many things on his visit, but only one practical thing, and that was to plant this tree,” said Prof. Ehud Ziv, the chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. 

”In Motza, on Broza’s lot, on the slope, I planted a young cedar, and Wolffsohn planted a small palm,” Herzl wrote in his diary on November 1, 1898. “A few Arabs helped us, as did the settlers Broza and Katz. We returned to Jerusalem in the darkness of night.” 

Herzl and his companions believed that he had planted a cedar, so the place was named Arza, from the Hebrew word erez. The tree turned out to be a cypress, but the name remained.

Herzl’s tree did not last long; in 1915 it was chopped down and burned. The farmer Shmuel Broza suspected that the Ottoman authorities did it to hurt Jewish settlement. All attempts to save the tree failed, but the stump became an important Zionist symbol. 

During the War of Independence, when women and children were evacuated in armored cars because of the battles at nearby Kastel, room was found in a vehicle for the stump so it would not fall into enemy hands. 

After several more misfortunes, the stump was finally enclosed in glass reinforced with steel bars, where it remains to this day.

Today is Tu b’Shevat. We celebrate this day in a nation that replanted itself, turning the dessert into a blossoming oasis. On this day, I intend to plant a tree and so should everyone else.  I took this opportunity to connect past and present exactly as my name connects biblical times and Modern Israel.

Click here to learn more about planting a tree in Israel. Or better yet, come visit and we’ll plant a tree together!

*Special thanks to http://myjewishlearning.com for providing the history of Herzl’s tree


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