Last year around the time of Tu B’Shevat — the Jewish New Year of the Trees and the traditional time for widespread planting in Israel and through Jewish National Fund — I wrote about the incomparable feeling one gets when placing a tree in Israel’s soil. This year I have to describe how it feels when you see your trees burn down, even from afar: It is as painful as the planting is joyful.
The wildfires of Dec. 2 raged for more than 82 hours, creating 100-foot-high flames that spread rapidly across the Carmel mountain range. Forty-four people lost their lives, more than 17,000 residents were evacuated, and hundreds of homes were destroyed or severely damaged. The ecological toll was staggering. An estimated 5.4 million trees burned in the fire and thousands of animals were killed; those that managed to escape returned to a destroyed habitat. The area of destruction — encompassing natural woodlands and planted forests — is equal to a third of the entire Carmel Forest reserve, or 7,000 football fields.
As the magnitude of the fire became clear, Jewish National Fund launched Operation Carmel Renewal: From Black to Green, an emergency fund-raising campaign to repair the vast environmental damage to the region and provide firefighters with much-needed equipment and supplies. JNF rangers will facilitate the natural renewal of the forest by clearing burnt vegetation, fighting soil erosion, pruning densely regenerating trees, and creating firebreaks and access roads to prevent the spread of future fires. To date, nearly $4 million has been raised in support of these efforts.
Those are the facts. Now let me tell you about the feeling. The flames burned during Hanukka; rehabilitation and natural regeneration begin as we celebrate Tu B’Shevat, our New Year of the Trees. Always a time of renewal and of hope, this year the holiday must mark an intensification of both. The damage wreaked by the worst fire in Israel’s history was horrific but I am grateful that I work for JNF and can do something about it — as everyone can. This year, we can intensify our unique historical impact of greening the land of Israel by rehabilitating the Carmel and planting trees throughout the country, which serve as “green lungs” in urban areas, halt desertification, protect watersheds, and offer numerous other benefits. And we can honor trees as symbols of the life of the land and of the potential within the land by branching out in our support of diverse, progressive, relevant, and proven environmental interventions that will positively affect the well-being of the Jewish state.
Beyond afforestation, JNF is involved in a plethora of environmental initiatives in Israel, partnering with numerous organizations and institutions for an integrated approach to some of the most pressing environmental issues. Some examples:
- The JNF Parsons Water Fund — a comprehensive $100 million initiative to increase Israel’s supply of high-quality water by more than 440 billion gallons by 2020.
- Arava Institute for Environmental Studies — encourages collaboration between Israel and its neighbors on research and education dealing with problems related to the Dead Sea, the Kinneret, and the Jordan River.
- International Arid Lands Consortium — JNF is a founding member of this institution, which promotes cooperative research relating to arid lands for the benefit of countries around the globe.
- Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel — promotes respect for the land through education and experiences.
- Lotem — a leading organization in Israel dedicated to bringing people with special needs closer to nature.
- Project Wadi Attir — the first ever Bedouin agricultural cooperative in Israel, centered around community-based sustainable organic farming.
Trees are our people’s signature of life. This year, as we mourn the loss of so many trees, join JNF in its commitment to regreening the Carmel and embracing all that we can do to repair and protect the land we love.