Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
The Giving Tree: A Way to Honor Our Vision for Israel
In this season, when Jewish tradition teaches us to bless the fruit trees, when in North America and in Israel the trees are in full flower, so many of us are inspired to plant trees. As we enter Israel's seventh decade, planting a Jewish National Fund tree for the future sounds like second nature, a wise investment for both Israel and the planet.
I'm writing to ask you to do something a little different, something that will do much more for Israel: make a pledge, but wait to send money to JNF. Wait until you can make sure your money will do more, more for the land, more for the people, and more for the planet. Instead of giving money now, make a pledge in honor of Israel's 60th, and at the same time send a message of sustainability and hope.
Savethenegev.org, along with other Jewish and Israeli environmental organizations, is helping the JNF look at ways to devote more "tree" money to sustainable forests and to good renewable energy. Right now if you give $18 for a tree, eight of those dollars go toward getting your paper certificate. The alternative is to give JNF $10 for a tree through the "Go Neutral" campaign and forgo the paper.
The problem is this: "Go Neutral" isn't neutral: many of the forests that Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (KKL-JNF in Israel) has planted are unsustainable single-species plantations, providing little habitat for native plants or animals, and no meaningful offset for your carbon footprint. Even in the best forest, one tree takes 70 years to absorb a ton of carbon according to JNF – but it only takes each of us a year to release 20 or more tons. In the monoculture forests that carbon goes back into the atmosphere much sooner, as other trees die off without reseeding themselves. And there's no way to make sure your money goes to the best forests for the earth: KKL has not yet responded to our request to find out which forests are sustainable and self-seeding.
The great news is that JNF in the US is open to re-creating its "Go Neutral" campaign. I hope we can soon share news with you about how to give a tree through JNF-US and make sure that gift goes toward two excellent purposes: 1) creating a real forest habitat, one that can sustain native and diverse species for generations, and 2) financing good clean energy that actually removes carbon from the waste stream. Instead of giving $10 for a less-than-full JNF experience, you'll be able to give $18 – $10 for a new tree, and $8 for new energy, such as replacing diesel generators with solar power in Bedouin villages living off the grid.
We are also working with JNF-US to focus a bigger slice of money being sent to the Negev on sustainable, equitable projects that will help all the Bedouin, along with all the Jews, living in the Negev. That means you will soon be able to give not only to the best forests, but also to the best projects to help the poorest in Israel, Jewish and Bedouin – both the Bedouin in the government-planned townships, and the Bedouin in traditional villages.
You will also help deliver a bigger message to Israel's government and to KKL, not just to JNF. Right now Israel's Goldberg Commission is deciding whether to continue the failed government policy to force the Bedouin off the land and out of their traditional way of life, and to "suburbanize" the desert for Jewish Israelis, or to go in a new direction which renews the covenant Israel made with the Bedouin and with all non-Jewish citizens when it was founded, a covenant which the Bedouin embraced as soldiers and officers in the IDF, a covenant which is essential to Israel's democracy.
American Jews, and Jews around the world, want to support an Israel that lives up to its best promises and highest ideals, to treat the land as holy and to treat all citizens as belonging. Please join us in making this dream the reality. To learn more and do more, go to savethenegev.org.
Choni, one of the great sages and miracle workers in the Talmud, wondered at an old man who planted a carob tree that would not bear fruit for seventy years. That man taught Honi a true lesson: we plant for the generations that follow us.
Let us, then, restore the ancient forests, even though it can take lifetimes, even if you have to wait a little longer to make it last lifetimes. Make a pledge to give a tree that will give for generations, that will seed its own descendants, shelter animals, and nurture people. Tell JNF you want more: more green for Israel and more life for all of Israel's inhabitants, both for human beings, and for all the other species that make the holy land what it should be. That's one good way we can celebrate such a big milestone in the history of the Jewish people.
Let our planting, and our Israel, be one which survives generations. Let us plant not just for 60 years but for the next seventy, for a hundred and twenty, and more.
Rabbi David Seidenberg
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006