One of our favorite Talmudic tales at Eden Village Camp:
One afternoon Choni HaMe’agel was walking beside a road. He saw an old man planting a Carob tree, and asked him: “In how many years will this tree bear fruit?” The old man replied: “70 years!”. “70 years!”, Choni exclaimed, “Do you think you will be alive then?” The old man replied: “I found this world with Carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I am planting for my children.”
Tu B’Shvat, the Rosh Hashanah for The Trees is coming this Thursday, January 20, full moon Shvat. I will be celebrating in Moshav Aviezer, a beautiful little community in the hills west of Jerusalem, and although weather.com reports that it is currently snowing on our freshly planted fruit trees at Eden Village Camp, I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of the most exciting aspects of our permaculture orchard within the mystical and historical context of Tu B’Shvat.
Last Fall, at our Sukkot Harvest Festival, campers, families and friends gathered to plant twelve fruit trees in the Edible Forest Garden style: guilds of edible and useful plants working together to imitate the natural community relationships of a forest. We have American Persimmon, Summer Apple, Asian Pear, Pawpaw, Mulberry, Peach, Hardy Kiwi, Highbush Blueberry, Gooseberry, Pink Currant, Elderberry, Cranberry, Winecap Mushrooms, Oyster Mushrooms, a host of medicinal herbs, perennial vegetables, and much more!
With productive life spans ranging from 50 to 300 years, these trees will provide abundant nourishment for the next seven generations, the timespan we must consider in order to make good decisions, according to the Iroquois-speaking cultures who peopled the Hudson Valley for countless generations before New York State existed.
The old man in the Talmudic tale above also reflects such a long range ecological understanding, linking the natural divine generosity of trees with the deep generational continuity that exists within our own culture. We Jews are the holders of an intact and multifaceted earth-based wisdom tradition, and although we have lived in Diaspora for much of the last two millenia, the ecological and social wisdom of our people has been preserved (and enriched) as we have journeyed through modernity, sharing it with our children through such imaginative festivals as the Tu B’Shvat Seder.
The incredible history of Tu B’Shvat reflects this journey: from its beginnings as a calendrical demarcation that ensured the proper tithing of fruit trees in Mishnaic times, to the transcendental and symbol-laden Kabbalism of the school of Yitzchak Luria in Tzfat in the 16th century, to the planting of trees in Eretz Yisrael as a part of the Zionist project in the last century, to its role as a Jewish Earth Day in the contemporary environmental movement, Tu B’Shvat reflects the complex and beautiful relationship between the Jewish people and and the trees which have provided us such abundant fruit and such deep wisdom. Our permaculture orchard, accessible to hundreds of kids every summer, is a living example of this understanding, and serves as a space for humans to learn and grow; as a home for birds, insects, arachnids, and reptiles; as a free air purification and carbon sequestration station; all while providing abundant fresh organic berries, medicinal herbs,vegetables, and fruit for many future generations of human children.