Virtual Trees: JNF Takes Planting Online for Tu B'Shvat in Shmita

Trees to be planted after Jewish agriculture sabbatical year; JNF stresses holiday's environmental benefits.

The Jewish National Fund is marking Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish holiday of the trees, with a virtual tree-planting drive this year, giving visitors to its Web site a chance to plant saplings online. The departure from the traditional JNF tree-planting campaign is because this Jewish calendar year of 5768 is a shmita year. Under Jewish law, shmita is the seven-yearly ban on agricultural activity in Israel, letting the land lie fallow for 12 months.

"It's the year of the shmita and we are forbidden from planting," said Zvi Lidar of the JNF. "On the other hand, this is Tu B'Shvat, when people want to express their connection with the ground and with this land, people in Israel and all over the world."

The virtual trees ordered on the JNF site will be planted once the organization's forestation work picks up again in the autumn, once the new the Jewish year has begun.

The "Click to Plant" initiative is tailored to the JNF strategy of planting trees in specific forests around Israel. Each year, the organization's forest planning department selects which areas are in need of seeding, and this year the tree planters get to pick "their" forest. They also receive a certificate with a name and dedication of their choice.

Although Click to Plant was first introduced for the last shmita year in 2001, the JNF believes international awareness of global warming has grown in the last seven years, and aims to connect traditional Tu B'Shvat tree-planting to environmental issues.

"It's clear that trees play a vital role in lowering the carbon levels in the atmosphere," Lidar said. "There are a number of steps we can take to cope with the issue of climate change. One of the important steps that can be taken against global warming is the planting of forests, since the trees in the forests take in carbon from the atmosphere and emit oxygen back into the air."

"All the ideas on reducing greenhouse gases which are bandied about around the world look to reduce the amount of gases which are added to already existing pollution," Lidar said. "Planting trees reduce [gases] that have already amassed and are present [in the atmosphere]. Trees and ocean water are the only antidote today that exists for the purpose of reducing toxins already in the air."

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