A Free Tu Bishvat Feast on the Fruit Trees of Tel Aviv

Students mapped out the fruit trees in the city and marked where they can be picked.

Moti Milrod

Tel Aviv is known for its smog and concrete, but in its streets grow quite a number of fruit trees. Last September three students from the city: Eden Tzror, Udi Elenberg and Daniel Barzilai decided to dedicate a few hours a week to map out the trees. The trio created an Internet map with dozens of lemon, orange and clementine trees in the big city; and alongside every tree on the map they marked if it was permitted to pick the fruit. The gradations go from “illegimate,” to “half legitimate” and “legitimate.”

“There are trees that you can clearly see are fenced off and belong to a specific building, we respect their sacredness,” write the map’s creators on Facebook. “On the other hand, there are municipal trees that it is a pleasure to loot, or trees that were forgotten in some such nice plot of land. Kilograms of fruit and vegetables are just waiting to be picked, like once upon a time, when we lived in caves and hunted vegetables.”

The map is a side - project of the Facebook group “The Shopping List of a Genius,” which the three students are among the managers, and which is intended mostly to announce sales of vegetables and other food products in supermarkets. In the 1980s a similar initiative was started by the late Dan Daor and Zur Shizaf. They focused on mapping the mulberry trees in the city.

The initiative sprung out of the need to deal with the high and rising cost of living in Tel Avi: If there is no bread, we will pick lemons. “It is all because fo the rise in prices,” explains Tzror, 25 years old, a psychology and economics student. “We don’t work in high tech, but are waiters at best, and we wanted to lower the cost of buying vegetables. We used a lot of lemons and in the supermarket their prices reached 13 shekels a kilogram. These are unreasonable prices when lemons are available free on every corner. We made a round of picking, mostly in the area of Mazeh [Street], we each came back home with two kilos. We saved something like 50 shekels a month. After a few times we started writing down their location, and then I found the possibility to create the map on Google,” he said.

With the expansion of the searches, kumquats were added to the list, along with pitanga (Surinam cherries), chili peppers, passion fruit and more. So far the group has mapped some 150 sites and about 200 trees. For now they are focusing on Tel Aviv. “There was a woman who sent us a message about Sycamore fig trees in Bat Yam. The truth is I don’t even know what the fruit of a sycamore looks like, so we chose to say no. We need to check in Wikipedia if it is even possible to eat it. [People] have written to us about date palms and olive trees in Tel Aviv University, but we didn’t put them on the map since it is hard to pick them and it was not immediate. But we put in a papaya tree, pomelos and pomegranates.”

Tzror received a request to turn the map into a smartphone app. “It would be good if the imitative happened in other cities too.” Friends of theirs form the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa wanted to try the idea in their city. “We will be happy if someone coordinates the reports in every city, after all the map is not ours,” said Tzror.

Since September they have not bought a lemon in the supermarket, said Tzror. “In principle I am not willing ot buy lemons, even now when they are significantly cheaper.” For now he is worried that the exposure the map is receiving will ruin it, since everyone will pounce on the few trees and leave them bare. “When we made a round with the photographer we didn’t find enough fruit to look good, also because of the season,” Tzror said sadly.

So far they have made 25 mapping rounds, and say they have covered 60 percent of the center of the city, but in terms of the metropolitan area they have only covered a few percent. “No less [important] than getting the fruit is the experience. The three of us were born here and we discovered streets we never knew. We learned a little botany. Until the tours none of us ever raised out heads form the floor, we walked the city and didn’t see what was around us. Suddenly we were able to look at trees, to identify their shapes. I had no idea that the pretty bushes I saw on the street produced quantities of passion fruit, or there were such quantities of lemons in the city. A lot of the experience is the discovery,” said Tzror. And it doesn’t even cost money, it saves it, he said.

Tel Aviv residents are welcome to help and inform about fruit trees at: makogenius@gmail.com