Tu Bish­vat: Time to re­new

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By RICHARD SHAVEI-TZION

There’s a won­der­ful Greek proverb, “A so­ci­ety grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” Two mil­len­nia ago, the Greeks had the fore­sight and lux­ury of con­tem­plat­ing in­vest­ment in our habi­tat as an in­di­ca­tion of great­ness. Nowa­days, it is an ur­gent im­per­a­tive for the wel­fare of our de­scen­dants.

Only the will­fully blind do not see the un­mis­tak­able ac­cel­er­at­ing changes tak­ing place in our en­vi­ron­ment and only those who are delu­sional de­niers refuse to ad­mit that the dev­as­ta­tion is a di­rect cause of our abuse and over-uti­liza­tion of the planet’s re­sources. Yes, the earth has gone through cli­mate evo­lu­tion be­fore, but the same changes that tran­spired over tens of mil­len­nia are now oc­cur­ring over tens of years, less than a blink of his­tory. No­bel Lau­re­ate chemist, Paul Crutzen coined the term “An­thro­pocene” to des­ig­nate the new, man-made, fast-mov­ing ge­o­log­i­cal age in the earth’s long his­tory.

Those who are un­con­vinced by 97% of the pre­em­i­nent cli­mate sci­en­tists of our age who have con­firmed the hu­man-based de­cline of the en­vi­ron­ment only need to use com­mon sense. How can we fail to ob­serve what plas­tic is do­ing to the oceans and an­i­mal life? Res­i­dents find it dif­fi­cult to breathe in Delhi and Bei­jing, arc­tic re­gions are turn­ing to tem­per­ate re­gions and tem­per­ate to desert. Fires in the Ama­zon, Aus­tralia and the Rus­sian Arc­tic, shrink­ing wa­ter sup­plies, the rise in fre­quency of pe­di­atric can­cer… the list is long and laden with car­nage.

We need look no fur­ther than our own tiny strip of land. Wit­ness the ter­mi­nal con­di­tion of the Dead Sea, acidic wa­ter spills in the Judean desert, ex­tinc­tion of many an­i­mal species, the Evrona crude-oil pipe burst and air pol­lu­tion in our cities, to name a few. There are of course bright spots in this deso­late pic­ture, the pri­mary one be­ing re­for­esta­tion ef­forts.

Our mag­nif­i­cent planet will with­stand the short de­struc­tive im­pact of hu­man in­ter­fer­ence, even if it means tens or hun­dreds of thou­sands of years of recovery. But will our species sur­vive?

THE MI­NOR fes­ti­val of Tu Bish­vat has mor­phed through the ages since its first ci­ta­tion in the Mishna around 1,700 years ago as a tech­ni­cal des­ig­na­tion for cal­cu­lat­ing tree tithing. In the Mid­dle Ages, the date was cel­e­brated with a feast of fruits, while in the 16th cen­tury, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria of Safed and his dis­ci­ples in­sti­tuted a Tu Bish­vat Seder. In 1890, Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz took his stu­dents to plant trees in Zichron Yaakov. To­day we cel­e­brate with a com­bi­na­tion of tree plant­ings and sed­ers. All of these ac­tiv­i­ties share the com­mend­able pur­pose of pro­mot­ing aware­ness and the love of agri­cul­ture and na­ture in our coun­try, much of which was trans­formed from desert and waste­land to a flow­er­ing, pro­duc­tive land.

As the prac­tice of the fes­ti­val has changed over the ages to serve the agen­das of their times, I be­lieve that Tu Bish­vat should be re­mod­eled yet again to pro­mote aware­ness and a call to ac­tion to pro­tect our bio­sphere. Tu Bish­vat can be a tool in cul­ti­vat­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the mirac­u­lous beauty and com­plex­ity of our globe, the fragility of our en­vi­ron­ment and the pos­si­bil­ity of an en­hanced world re­shaped by our com­mit­ment to change.

We may feel pow­er­less to make a dif­fer­ence, ex­ac­er­bated by a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, where those charged with man­ag­ing our re­sources must stand for re­elec­tion ev­ery few years. This in­cen­tivizes pol­icy fa­vor­ing short-term ben­e­fit and longterm de­struc­tion.

But we can take re­spon­si­bil­ity for our own be­hav­ior. Yes, in this age of ex­ces­sive con­sumerism and con­ve­nience, mod­i­fy­ing our life­style takes com­mit­ment. But we all know that valu­able achieve­ments in life re­quire ef­fort. Here are but a few ex­am­ples as to what we can do:

• Pur­chase pru­dently so as to min­i­mize waste and uti­lize multi-use pack­ag­ing. A cou­ple of lemons and pota­toes do not need their own ny­lon bags.

• Eat less red meat and put it on a re­us­able plate.

• Drive a hy­brid car or ride a bike and use pub­lic trans­port.

• We are blessed with so much sun­shine. Hang up the wash­ing rather than us­ing the dryer.

• Video con­fer­enc­ing and other tech­nolo­gies can cut down on busi­ness air travel.

• Badger your elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to pri­or­i­tize sus­tain­abil­ity.

These may seem like tiny drops, but if we are united in our re­solve to be­queath a healthy, vi­able earth to our grand­chil­dren, the drops can be­come an ocean.

And to those who say, “God will solve the prob­lem,” let us re­mem­ber that the first thing that God gave hu­mankind was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of stew­ard­ship over the world.

Just as our for­bear­ers uti­lized this fes­tive day to fur­ther the cause of the burn­ing con­cerns of their time, so must we. How about adding to our Seder ten en­vi­ron­men­tal plagues threat­en­ing our world? Ma Nish­tana? We live at a time very dif­fer­ent from all other times. To the “wicked and naïve chil­dren” who will not ac­cept that cli­mate change is a con­se­quence of our ac­tion, an­swer them in true Jewish fash­ion with a ques­tion, “Will you take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the de­cline of life if you are wrong?” And end off by singing, “Next year in a cleaner, greener Jerusalem!”

Look­ing for­ward to a for­ward-look­ing Tu Bish­vat!

The writer is the au­thor of The Prayer for Preser­va­tion of the


BURST­ING AL­MOND blos­soms in Jerusalem’s foothills. A FRIVOLOUSL­Y dis­carded kid’s snack pack­age makes its in­deli­ble mark.

CLAWS OF land en­croach on the Dead Sea as wa­ter lev­els re­cede.

SPRING’S PROM­ISE sprouts from Lifta’s ru­ins.

ABAN­DONED CON­CRETE frames a tree fight­ing for life.

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