By Chaya Singer, Executive Director SAZF Cape Council
As we start this new year of 2021 and a new era for the South African Zionist Federation (Cape Council) begins, it is particularly symbolic that we recently also celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of the trees, a day of ecological awareness and sustainability.
The strength of an organisation lies in its ability to evolve, and at this time of new beginnings and fresh vision, I am reminded of the Talmudic story (Ta’anit 23b), of Choni HaMa’agal, who asked an old man planting a carob tree if he expected to live 70 more years to see it bear fruit. The man replied that just as he inherited a world of trees planted by his fore-fathers, he too plants trees for his children. Connecting the past to our collective future is the essence of Jewish continuity and in my view, the core mandate of Jewish communal institutions. At the SAZF Cape Council, we are planting a renewed vision as we endeavour to strengthen our work by applying long-term thinking and strategy. It is imperative that our organisation embodies the world leading Israel of today that is at the forefront of cutting-edge innovation and international development.
Planting trees is a core ecological effort of Israel, as embodied by our affiliate organisation, the Jewish National Fund. Since 1900 about 250 million trees have been planted across Israel and it is the only country in the world that ended the 20th century with more trees than it had 100 years prior. In 1948 approximately 2% of Israel was covered in trees. This has increased exponentially and today roughly 8.5% of Israel is covered in trees.
Judaism carries with it an environmental ethic and a charge to care for and preserve the environment. Israel has excelled at cultivating the land and in our lifetime we have seen the desert literally bloom. The Jewish people have always, even in the most destitute of times, generously given towards the cultivation of the land of Israel and this continues through the planting of trees and the work of the JNF. Jewish tradition fully acknowledges the environment with many laws pertaining to farming and the preservation particularly of fruit trees, and on Tu B’Shvat Jews around the world traditionally honour the 7 Species of fruit of the land of Israel with a special seder.
Tu B’Shevat is a reminder to us of the importance of planting for the next generation and ensuring a fruitful and prosperous future, even in times of uncertainty. At the SAZF Cape Council we are committed to doing just that through our work and involvement in the community, and beyond. In celebration of Tu B’Shvat, we are establishing a joint JNF/ SA Friends of Israel (SAFI) sustainable food garden project with a comprehensive irrigation system in a local underprivileged area. Trees symbolise a healthy and sustainable environment, qualities that we seek to emulate in our work to secure a stronger Israel, a prosperous South Africa and a healthier world.
Published in the print edition of the February 2021 issue. Download the February 2021 issue PDF here.
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