More than 100 Christians from around the world donated more than $10,000 in the two days leading up to Tu Bishvat – the Jewish new year of the trees, to “plant trees in the holy land and be blessed,” according to Tuly Weisz, founder and CEO of Israel365, whose charity fund spearheaded these efforts.
On January 30, the day before Israel marked the birthday of the trees with fruit ceremonies, Weisz and a small team of Jewish and Christian supporters planted olive trees in the settlement of Bat Ayin and the Jewish section of Hebron.
“Our Christian tree donors are not only looking to help fulfill biblical prophecy, but to strengthen the Jewish presence throughout the land of Israel,” said Weisz. “The orchards we planted in Bat Ayin are stopping the Palestinian land grab and fortifying the Jewish communities in Gush Etzion. The trees we planted at Maharat HaMachpela [the Cave of the Patriarchs] strengthen our roots in a place that Bible believers hold so dear.”
Tu Bishvat seems to come at quite a peculiar time. The temperatures in Israel may be more mild than in most of Europe or North America, but it is still winter. It’s the ringing in of a new year that supposedly celebrates the tree when the trees themselves, however, are anything but celebrating.
In a sign of unbelievable faith, in the heart of the season of “lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,” in the season farthest away from being appropriate to plant trees, the Jewish people decided to go out to the countryside and get their hands dirty in the hallowed soil.
Established as the cut-off date to determine which types of tithes must be applied to the produce, the holiday took on its arboreal element in the late 20th century with the aliyah of Rabbi Ze’ev Yaavetz, a Polish-born historian who at the age of 40 immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1887. He began his life in the Holy Land as a worker in the vineyards of Yehud, and during his time as a teacher in the community of Zichron Yaakov, south of Haifa, he began taking out his students on Tu Bishvat to plant trees in the field, thus establishing the holiday tradition of arbor day, which continues until this day.
To help continue the unconventional tradition of planting trees on this day, every year the tree nurseries look to find the strongest and most capable saplings that they hope will be able to survive the rest of the harsh winter months, especially in the mountainous areas of the Pleasant Land.
Meanwhile, the Christian donors were told that Rabbi Weisz would pray for and bless them during the tree planting ceremonies. He not only did that, he allowed them to see it for themselves by broadcasting it on Facebook Live.
When Evangelical Christians started giving money to Israel 35 years ago, their money was not always welcomed, because their motives were questioned.
Today, however, it is widely accepted – and even celebrated – by the Israeli government that Christian Zionists pour hundreds of millions of dollars toward Israeli causes each year, including for settlement expansion. A 2009 report by National Public Radio said Christian Zionists are raising millions of dollars for the settlements, which critics view as an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
These Christian Zionists, however, see it as their religious obligation to “bless those who bless you,” as it states in Genesis 12.
“Tears welled up in my eyes and I bowed my head down in prayer,” said Beth Madras, a Christian Zionist supporter from New York, about seeing her name read at the planting on Facebook. “I love Israel and Jerusalem with all my heart, and I pray for the people every day... I will be sure to do this year after year after year.”