Herzl's Tree

A well-known story that weaves together Tu Bishvat, tree-planting and the rebuilding of Israel

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Seven years later, on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, 1904, Herzl died at age 44. The stunned members of the Yishuv mourned his death and continued to commemorate their leader in the years to come. On the day of his yahrzeit (the anniversary of his death), Zionist youth continued to ascend that hill and plant trees around Herzl's.

When World War I broke out several years later, the British and the Turks were locked in a bitter struggle over control of the Holy Land. As the tide of battle was turning in favor of the British, the Turks, suffering a wave of defeats, vented out their anger upon the Zionists. Many were imprisoned or exiled; others had their wealth and businesses confiscated.

Despite the hardships, the settlers continued to develop the land. When the 20th of Tammuz arrived in 1917, Zionist youth, in accordance with the annual custom, once again returned to Herzl's tree, but they found that it had not survived. The Turks had hewn it down. Scattered around the remains of the tree, the young Zionists found cones from the cypress tree, which they placed in their pockets. They returned to Jerusalem under cover that night to avoid the watchful eyes of the Turks. Those cones, which contained numerous seeds, were carefully guarded.

In 1917, the Turks were defeated and forced out of the land. The 400-year rule of the Turks was over. Those who collected and guarded the seeds proceeded to plant them throughout the land. Soon, from Herzl's destroyed tree, many young trees sprung forth across the land of Israel--from Galilee to the Judean hills.

The settlement of Motza was likewise cut down. A wave of Arab riots against the Jews erupted throughout the Holy Land in 1929, and Motza suffered at the hands of Arabs from neighboring villages. The beleaguered settlement was soon abandoned. However, fouryears later, a new settlement, Moshav Motza Ilith (Upper Motza) was established near that location, situated slightly higher on the same hill.  In clear view of the Moshav rested the remains of Herzl's cypress tree.

A tree was cut down, but its seeds remained in order to be planted in the future. On Tu Bishvat, a nation plants seeds to recover what was lost in the past. The Romans might have left the land bare, but there was always hope for its revival and the renewal of its legendary forestry. Every Tu Bishvat those seeds, which are remnants of the destruction of forests in the past, are planted to build future forests in the land of Israel.

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Larry Domnitch

Larry Domnitch is a freelance writer and Jewish educator. He has a master's degree in Jewish history from Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel Graduate School.