The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 

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The Giving Tree: Planting for Tu Bishvat

Whether you're celebrating Tu Bish'vat or Yom Ha'atsmaut or a bat/bar mitsvah, many people are inspired to plant trees through Jewish National Fund. The best time to plant many trees in Israel is a bit later in the year than Tu Bishvat, but either way there are better ways to plant a tree. KKL sells its trees for $18 each -- but you can plant 50 trees for $5!

There are other issues with Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (KKL - the JNF in Israel). The most important political issue is the KKL-JNF's role in recent decades in helping to take over land once occupied by Bedouin villages in places like Atir.

But the more immediate problem is the cost. If you give $18 for a tree, eight of those dollars go toward getting your paper certificate. JNF used to offer $10 for a tree if you were willing to forgo the paper as part of its defunct "GoNeutral" -- they don't even do that now.

Moreover, if you care about carbon offsets, the monoculture forests still existing on some JNF land reduce CO2 far less than a healthy forest ecosystem because they don't build up rich soil, which holds far more CO2 than a brosh pine forest. And KKL doesn't share information about which forests are sustainable and self-seeding so that you can make sure your tree is planted in one.

Right now, you can instead go to Trees for the Future and join the Tu Bishvat campaign organized by Rabbi Gilah Langner and Shirat Hanefesh -- where for only $5 you can plant 50 FIFTY trees. (You can learn more about carbon offsets and tree planting at

Trees for the Future, a Silver Spring, Md.-based nonprofit that –- realistically -- aims to plant *500 million trees by 2025*. Trees for the Future has developed a Forest Garden approach, working with tens of thousands of family farmers in six African countries. Each Forest Garden involves planting and caring for *an average of 4,000 trees* per one-hectare farm. The Forest Gardens yield food for the families and regenerate the soil so that it, along with the trees, can sequester carbon. Meanwhile, farm families who are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts are being brought out of extreme poverty, and are learning perma-gardening techniques that will sustain food security for future generations.

Of course, that doesn't green Israel. Someday, there will be an alternative for planting in the holy land that helps both Israel and Palestine, at a cost per tree that makes sense. And I promise to share that information here!

Choni, one of the great sages and miracle workers in the Talmud, wondered at an old man who planted a carob tree that would not bear fruit for seventy years. (It doesn't actually take that long for a carob tree to bear fruit, btw, but the number 70 works well in a Jewish legend.)

Let us restore the ancient forests, even though it takes lifetimes. Make a pledge to give a tree that will give for generations, that will seed its own descendants, shelter animals, and nurture people. And tell JNF you want more if they want your donation: more trees, more green for Israel, more alive forests and living ecosystems, and more life for all of Israel's inhabitants, both human and all the other species that make the holy land what it should be.

Let our planting, and our Israel, be one which survives generations. Let us plant not just for ten years but for seventy, for a hundred and twenty, and more.

Rabbi David Seidenberg



Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006