This week's observance of Tu Bishvat - Jewish Arbor Day, also known as the New Year of the Trees - marks the inauguration of a new planting center made possible by an 83-year-old Floridian with deep roots of his own.
Harvey Hertz, a retired senior vice president at the Florida-based financial services firm of Raymond James, says he was affected by the fire that engulfed the Carmel region of Israel last year, leaving 42 Israelis dead and destroying scores of homes and more than 12,000 acres of forest.
"When the Carmel fire was burning, my heart was burning," says Hertz, speaking from his home in St. Pete Beach, Florida.
"When I read about the devastation of the fire, I knew I had to do something," he said.
The new tree planting center, a Jewish National Fund-USA project, is named for Hertz and located at Neot Kedumim, a biblical landscape reserve.
Located some 20 minutes from Jerusalem, the center offers visitors the opportunity to plant saplings that will later be transferred to sites throughout Israel, according to a Jewish National Fund statement.
The grandson of an immigrant Orthodox accountant and cantor from Bucharest, Romania, Hertz has been involved with the Jewish National Fund for decades.
As an 8-year-old walking to the subway in his native Brooklyn, New York, Hertz remembers his mother instructing him to hold on to the carriage's center pole with one hand, while clutching the legendary blue-and-white Jewish National Fund pushke, or charity box, with the other.
"I would shake the pushke up and down," recalls Hertz, who notes that the Jewish National Fund's major thrust at the time was buying land - a cause for which some passengers inserted 25 cents, more than the hourly wage at the time.
"It worked like a charm," he says.
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