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Hundreds of congregations, Jewish day schools and Hebrew schools are taking part in Jewish National Fund’s (JNF’s) Tu B’Shevat Across America 2004 program celebrating Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the trees, on February 7th.

To commemorate the one year anniversary of the death of Colonel Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first Jewish astronaut who along with six colleagues lost his life in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, special Ilan Ramon tree certificates will be used for JNF’s Tu B’Shevat program. Prior to his death, Colonel Ramon expressed his wish that 13 million new trees be planted in Israel and JNF has worked to help fulfill the Israeli hero’s dream.

Tu B’Shevat embodies the strong dedication to ecology, environmentalism and conservation that JNF has always championed. It falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, a time when trees start drinking the New Year’s rainwater and the sun renews itself. 

“Over the years, this holiday has taken on the theme of planting trees in Israel, making it JNF’s holiday,” explains Bob Levine, JNF’s National VP for Education. “Perhaps no other organization is as strongly associated with a holiday as JNF is with Tu B’Shevat. Over the past 100 years, Jews have come together to plant over 240 million trees through JNF, providing luscious belts of green covering over 250,000 acres of land in Israel.”

During the early pioneer movement in late 18th and early 19th century Palestine, Jewish pioneers linked the environmentalism of Tu B’Shevat specifically with the practice of planting trees in the land of Israel. In recent years, Jewish environmentalists adopted Tu B'Shevat as a "Jewish Earth Day," involving organized seders, tree-plantings and ecological restoration activities as a way to express a specifically Jewish commitment to caring for nature and protecting the environment. Trees defend against the greenhouse effect, improve air quality, prevent soil erosion and protect areas that feed into water sources.

Jewish schools are encouraged to celebrate Tu B’Shevat by planting trees in Israel, conducting a Tu B’Shevat Seder using the brightly colored JNF Haggadah, Branching Out, reciting the blessings and eating fruits and grains from Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive and dates), dancing the ‘mayim’-the Jewish dance for water, and doing the activities in its educational newsletter, A New Leaf.  For an $18 tree purchase, students can receive one Ilan Ramon Tree Certificate for themselves and designate a second one for an honoree. Additional certificates can be purchased at a special student rate. In addition, a Limited Edition Ilan Ramon Commemorative Stamp Set is available to Jewish schools.

Another aspect of this exciting program is JNF’s work with congregations to bring together families across the U.S. to celebrate this holiday. JNF developed a Tu B’Shevat sermon book, which is a collection of sermons from rabbis around the country about the importance of this environmental holiday. Hundreds of congregations will participate in Tu B’Shevat Across America by holding a JNF Shabbat on February 7th and Tu B’Shevat seders during that week. 

"As the environmentalist movement grew, people really started saying, 'What is the Jewish response?' But there already was a Jewish response," Robinson said.  "Tu B'Shevat reminds us that no matter what happens, we all have to share this planet and care for it."

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