Israeli trees, fascinating stories


KENDALL PARK, N.J., Jan. 21 (JTA) — Since the first Tu B’Shevat ceremonies in what is now Israel in the 1880s, it has been customary to plant trees there. Over the years many of these planted trees have blended into the landscape. Behind their casual appearance, there are compelling stories. Here are a few:

“The Botanist’s Palms”

Drivers traveling along the coastal highway near Atlit will notice two neat rows of tall palm trees disappearing into the countryside. These trees are a living monument to the life and sacrifice of Aaron Aaronsohn. They lead from the town of Atlit on the coast, to an agricultural experimental station he helped found below Zichron Ya’acov. The trees, California Fan Palms, are close to 90 years old.

Aaronsohn moved with his family at the age of 6 to Palestine. His father was one of the founders of the town of Zichron Ya’acov.

After studying in France, he returned to Israel, where he became a well-known botanist. With the help of influential Jewish leaders and philanthropists he raised funds for the establishment of an agricultural experiment station at Atlit between the years 1909-1910.

Aaronson is also known for his part in the Nili spy group, which helped the British in their aim to conquer Palestine from the Turks. He was killed in an airplane crash over the English Channel on May 15, 1919.

“The Settlers’ Eucalyptus Grove”

When early visitors came to Palestine they saw not one, but two lakes. Old maps clearly show this lake north of the Sea of Galilee. Known as Lake Hula, it covered 5 square miles. The lake was surrounded by extensive swamps which covered close to another 4 square miles.

The lake supported a tremendous variety of animal and plant life. Unfortunately, it was also a fertile breeding ground for the mosquito that carried the dreaded malaria disease. In 1934, the Jewish Agency for Israel purchased the rights to a large part of the Hula Valley, with the intention of draining the area to eradicate the disease from the area and increase land for farming.

One of the villages that directly benefited from the draining of the Hula was Yesod Hama’aleh. The early years of the village were difficult and many of the settlers were stricken with malaria. Soon after the founding of the village, in the 1880s, the residents planted a grove of Eucalyptus on what was then the bank of Lake Hula.

The grove is located on a small knoll near the entrance of the Hula Nature Reserve. The trees once on the edge of the lake are now in the middle of the Hula Valley.

“Oskar Schindler’s Carob”

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial was established in 1953 by an act of the Israeli Knesset. Its mission is threefold:

• To commemorate the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators;

• To memorialize the Jewish communities which were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate the name and culture of Israel; and

• To honor the heroism and fortitude of the Jews and the Righteous Among the Nations.

As you walk the grounds of this national institution, look for a tree-lined promenade called the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations. The trees planted along this walkway are carob trees, and each represents a particular person who was instrumental in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem decided to plant carob trees along this Avenue for several reasons.

First, the carob tree is evergreen — its leaves do not wither or fall in the winter months. Second, it is a fruit-bearing tree. Both these characteristics are symbolic of life and continuity. Finally, it is not a particularly tall or obtrusive tree, and thus reflects the modesty of the Righteous Among the Nations.

On the right side near the beginning of the path is the tree of Oskar and Emilie Schindler. The tree was planted by Oskar Schindler himself on May 5, 1962. His increased popularity, partly as a result of Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List,” can be seen by the large number of stones piled by the tree. It is a Jewish custom to place a small stone on a person’s gravestone when visiting at a cemetery. In this case, they have been placed by the tree.

Michael Brown, a school librarian in Marlboro, N.J., is the author of the “Jewish Gardening Cookbook.”

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