So declared the headlines in the British mandatory news, advertising the exhibition at the Tower of David on the topic of “Trees, Plants and Local Shrubbery”. The exhibition, presented in 1931, was the core of one of many fundraising events of this kind organized by the unusual British organization “Men of the Trees”.
But who were the “Men of the Trees”?
It was a volunteer organization established in 1929 by the British forester Dr. Richard Baker. The focus of the organization was to advance, the preservation of nature, and the cultivation of forests and forestry in the Land of Israel and throughout the world through education and publicity. The organization organized conferences, lectures and planting competitions between different schools in Mandatory Palestine.
There was no precedent to the scope of the work of the organization and it was characterized on one hand by the British tradition of forestry based on their own green, richly forested homeland, and on the other hand by strong religious fervor for the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, best expressed in Biblical stories. According to the “Men of the Trees” their goal was to repair the neglect and long term destruction of the country’s forests. Their goal was to return Israel to its ancient, wooded landscape.
These activities dovetailed organically with the Zionist endeavor of making the desert bloom, stewardship of the land and planting trees – all of which began decades before the efforts of “Men of the Trees”. The Zionist project was carried out specifically by counselors and teachers connected to the Zionist movement in the Land of Israel. Forestry activities had their roots in the days of the First Aliyah during Ottoman rule. A well-known example is the story of the pioneering educator from Zichron Ya’akov, Ze’ev Yavetz, who went out with his students on Tu b’Shvat in 1890 to plant trees.
The connection between the Zionist movement and the Jewish National Fund to the “Men of the Trees” organization led to many attempts at cooperation but they were ultimately unsuccessful. One way or another, against the backdrop of renewal, forestry and settling the Land of Israel, our current aholiday of trees changed focus. Tu b’Shvat originally had a very significant religious and legal significance in relation to tithes and religious donations. But, during the years of the first pioneers before Israel’s establishment, and with a significant push during the British Mandate, Tu b’Shvat adopted the values of making the desert bloom, preserving nature and fostering love of the land. So, the holiday became known as “the Holiday of Planting”.
Happy Tu b’Shvat!