Foresters Fear Frond Free-for-all as Israelis Forage for Sukkahs

Sukkot is on the way, and with it, an annual spate of damage to trees, as people harvest branches to roof their traditional holiday booths.

Wild date palms and weeping willows suffer particularly severe damage. The annual harvesting of date palm leaves around the Kinneret, the Acre area, Ashkelon and elsewhere has left these areas almost devoid of natural date palm growth.

Jewish National Fund Ben-Shemen Forest ranger Gilad Mastai says the fund currently is giving trees essential, expert pruning to provide free eucalyptus and acacia branches to sukkah-builders. Branches are already being distributed at the Ben-Shemen Forest.

"Right after Yom Kippur people start cutting branches at nature sites," says Roni Malka, who is in charge of enforcement at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. This inexpert pruning "does damage that does not allow the tree to rejuvenate. It is a fatal blow," says Malka.

The authority reminds the public that the trees are protected by law. In past years, the chief rabbis have come out against the practice.