To Pave Road for Cohanim, Eucalyptus Trees Have to Go

Uri Sayda was born in Tiberias 74 years ago. He says three large eucalyptus trees, which proudly stood until last week on Hayarden Street, were part of his childhood, not just part of his hometown.

"This is it, it's over, this is the price of progress," he says. "They told us they're broadening the street to four lanes, and there's nothing they can do. Apparently they had no choice."

tiberias - Yabashot Tiberias - February 15 2011
Yabashot Tiberias

The three trees were uprooted last week. Other, much smaller trees will be moved elsewhere.

But according to a document by Israel Antabi, the municipality's deputy director general and head of engineering and projects, the trees were removed not because of plans to create a four-lane road. The plan is to pave a street for Cohanim - Jews who, according to custom, face certain restrictions such as avoiding graveyards.

According to the document, "Tiberias is an ancient city more than 2,000 years old .... In Tiberias there are cemeteries that cover most of the area around the old city. So Cohanim do not use the roads in the center of Tiberias. The Israeli government decided to fund a project for making halakhic roads that would enable the passage of Cohanim."

Such roads were built several years ago: Route 90, below the old cemetery, and Yohanan Ben-Zakai Street, which crosses Hayarden Street.

Also, a technique exists to allow Cohanim to travel over land where ancient graves are discovered. It entails laying down two layers of cement beams, over which a road is laid.

Whatever the reason, the loss of the trees is a tough one for many residents. David Amar, who owns a camping-gear shop on Hayarden Street, also says the eucalyptus trees were part of his childhood. He finds the uprooting of trees to pave a street for Cohanim strange.