The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development called on Israelis celebrating the Tu Bishvat holiday on Sunday night and Monday to veer away from the traditional dried fruits eaten on the holiday, and instead embrace Israel’s “award-winning” fresh produce.
Tu Bishvat, or the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, is also called the new year for the trees, which was how farmers in the biblical time knew the age of a tree and the appropriate tithe to donate to the Temple. As Jews scattered across the world, the holiday became a symbol of connection to the land.
Starting in the third century, kabbalists outside of Israel began eating nuts and fruits from the Holy Land to mark the “birthday of the trees.” Because this was in the time before refrigeration and supply-chain logistics, they ate dried fruit from Israel, which is how the tradition of eating dried fruit on Tu Bishvat began.
In Israel, many people still mark the holiday by eating dried fruit during a festive meal or seder, although most dried fruit in Israel actually comes from Turkey, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
“Farmers are today’s pioneers, and Israel’s agricultural produce is among the best in the world,” said Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said in a statement. Dried fruits are often “full of sugar and artificial coloring, with lower nutritional value than fresh fruits, Ariel added. He called on Israelis to support local farmers and strengthen the agricultural industry.
According to a national family expenditure survey, the average Israeli family spends about NIS 140 ($38) on fresh fruit per month, just 5 percent of their monthly food budget. The average Israeli consumes 8.3 kg (18 lbs) of fresh fruit per month.
Many Israelis got a head start to the holiday by taking advantage of the winter sunshine and recent rains to visit some of the country’s favorite parks in the north. More than 120,000 people visited national parks over the weekend, according to the Nature and Parks Authority.
Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael/Jewish National Fund, the organization responsible for foresting Israel’s hills, also marked Tu Bishvat with more than 600,000 trees planted over the past year. More than half of the new trees, about 350,000 trees were planted in existing forests, but 150,000 trees were planted in towns and cities, and about 100,000 trees for agricultural purposes.
Over 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres) of KKL/JNF forest burned from incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza in 2018. For now, JNF/KKL will let the area naturally rehabilitate itself before deciding if or how to replant the area.