Olive trees for Tu Bishvat

In November I was privileged part of a group, selected by St Ethelburgas Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, exploring how we engage with the Israel-Palestine situation as people of diverse and differing backgrounds and views, and how we might do something for mutual benefit. There were many moments on the trip of discomfort and pain for me personally as a Jew, but also positive ones. One of the most inspiring experiences was an afternoon spent with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organisation of Israeli Rabbi’s trying to show the just, humane face of Judaism, and believing this to be the best way to create a safe and secure future for both Israeli’s and Palestinians. They showed us some of the devastation that settlers have inflicted upon Palestinian farmland, as well as some of the hard work they are doing, as Rabbis and Jews, to protect Palestinians and their property.

They really represented to me an approach to Israel, co-existence and Judaism that spoke to me of my own values and ethics. So I was excited to see how we could help once back in the UK. In January we celebrate a festival which has its roots in the Mishnah (a text written down around 200ce but reporting much older traditions): Tu Bishvat – the 15th of the month of Shvat. The Mishnah tells us that this date is one of four new years – this one the new year for trees! It’s always been a festival close to my heart as my Bat Mitzvah took place on it, but it also means a lot to me as it’s become a time for us to really reflect on the importance of the environment, ecology, and also the produce of the Land of Israel. Thus it made perfect sense for West London Synagogue to get involved with helping Rabbis for Human Rights rebuild some of the destruction caused to agriculture by sponsoring Olive Tree replanting. Jews have a long history of supporting planting of trees in the Land of Israel, and doing it to help Palestinians makes a powerful statement about how we wish Israel and Palestine to be, and what we believe the ethics of Torah to be encouraging in us. Deuteronomy 20:19 says “When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?” Those destroying fruit trees and Olive trees are breaking Torah law. By helping to replant and rebuild I hope we are being truer to the intention of these ancient words, as well as contributing to the livelihoods and stability of the region.
Next Thursday (20th) is Tu Bishvat, if you'd like to get involved and buy a tree (£10), please be in touch. We are doing this in conjunction with a number of other synagogues via the New Israel Fund.


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