Israel is the only country in the world where there are more trees in the ground by the end of each year than at the beginning! I am proud to say, that Baruch Hashem – in my small way, I am a part of that reality. How does a boy born and bred in New York grow up to help plant over 120,000 new fruit trees in Israel? Let me explain.
In 1999 I received a phone call from Ariel Ben-Sheitrit who lives in the beautiful town of Yitzhar. He had a dream of becoming a wine-maker and wanted to start by planting 4,000 grape trees in the land that was given by Hashem to the sons of Yosef Ha’Tzaddik. He had the land, the equipment and the strong body to do the back-breaking work. There was one thing missing… money to buy the 4,000 young saplings. At that time, I was very active with the Yeshiva in Shechem (located at the burial site of Yosef Ha’Tzaddik). Ariel studied there and was one of our Kollel students. When we spoke he told me how much he wanted this and I told him that I would do whatever I could to help him fulfill his dream. I made a few calls, sent a few emails and within a short time, I had the money he needed! He planted the trees and over the years planted 6,000 more and recently won 2 Gold Medals in Israel’s wine competition!
That initial act of helping Ariel gave me an idea. I’m sure there are lots of “Ariels” out there who want to plant fruit trees but need help with the funding. I started making calls and – before I knew it – became the central address to help young, idealistic Jewish farmers fulfill their dreams! I had just two simple rules; 100% adherence to Jewish agricultural laws (with no short-cuts) and that no Jewish enemy can be involved whatsoever. (Aren’t you proud how “politically correct” I wrote those words??)
Since that day, back in 1999, the project I started – called “Israel Trees” – has planted a bit more than 120,000 new fruit trees all across Israel. This includes: grape, olive, mango, date, fig, pomegranate, peach, lemon, plum, almond, apple, strawberry, passion fruit, clementine, moringa (very rare tree), guava, avocado, argan (used to make a very healthy oil), nectarine, orange and cherry!!
In addition to planting all those fruits, it is very important to note where we planted as well. While I won’t list all of the places allow me to point us just a few: We planted olives in Moshav Tifrach (near Beersheba) where the farmer is the grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein! Ever heard of Mitzpe Ramon with their natural, amazing craters? Well, we planted there a few thousand argan trees which produce a nut that is used to make very healthy oil. Currently, the entire argan oil market is centered in Morocco but very soon, thanks to “Israel Trees” many Jewish farmers in Mitzpe Ramon will be profiting from this unique product.
What about the Israeli farms that border with Gaza? We take care of them too! These towns don’t make the news since all the focus is on the heavy populated Sderot but these Jewish towns are closer to Gaza and many have been hit harder than Sderot. We helped them by planting 4,000 clementines and 400 peaches in Moshav Yevul. How about the farms on the Jordan Valley? This is another area that has been hit hard in many ways and the people there are suffering economically. We planted 600 date trees, 400 mango trees and 3,000 olive trees in Einot Kedem, a farming community of just 4 families who host many teens-at-risk. They teach these young teenagers how to work the land and they give them skills to make something of themselves. You have to see it to believe it.
All the way up north, we planted in Kfar Shammai, a Jewish town on the Lebanese border and in Moshav Nov, a religious town on the Golan Heights. We also planted hundreds of trees in the Galilee in a farm called “Derech Eretz” (how’s THAT for a name??). This farm is located near the famous Kibbutz Lavi and we helped with a major project of new olive trees.
Many of our farmers produce amazing wine and we planted over 50,000 grape trees in Bet El, Eish Kodesh, Shevut Rachel, Sde Boaz, Bat Ayin, Itamar, Sussya, Otniel, Kochav Ha’Shachar and Maale Amos.
Baruch Hashem, the list above is just part of what we have done and I thank Hashem each and every day for giving me the opportunity to help these great heroes. Today’s Israeli farmers are generally young, idealistic men who are not looking for major profits. Yes, they have families whom they need to support, but their main goal is to build, settle and grow the Land of Israel. They work in the blazing sun day after day and come home exhausted but very satisfied, knowing that they have conquered and improved Hashem’s one and only land.
I must state that 10 years ago, my dear friend Shloime Walfish heard what I was doing and volunteered much of his time and energy for this cause. Today, Shloime and his family live in Israel and he has become my partner in the “Israel Trees” project. Shloime helped take this idea to the international level and I could never have reached the numbers I did without his unbelievable efforts. It just proves that when you start something for the sake of Heaven, you will receive tremendous bracha and hatzlacha.
I must point out that while typing this article, I received an incredible phone call. The call was from a guy named Eldad who lives in the Golan Heights. He and his partner, D’vir, just received a large piece of land in a place called Tel Farris which is literally on the Syrian border. As you know, the Golan Heights was liberated by the holy soldiers of the IDF during the 1967 Six Day War. In 1973, the Syrians desperately wanted the Golan Heights back and when the Yom Kippur War began they sent 1,400 tanks and 60,000 soldiers to attack Tel Farris. The battle was fierce and lasted 10 days until Hashem’s messengers were able to defeat the Syrians. In that exact place of Tel Farris, Eldad and D’vir want to plant a vineyard of 22,000 grape trees. They asked if I could help them and I told them I would do the best I could. What an honor to be a part of Am Yisrael!
Allow me to conclude this article by clarifying the title. Although I am definitely from New York… I am not really a farmer. Of the 120,000 trees that “Israel Trees” has sponsored, I personally planted only about 50. That ratio clearly qualifies me as a NON-Farmer! However, I am proud to have created this project which – together with Shloime Walfish – helps REAL farmers get the work done! I guess you can call me an “Honorary” Farmer which is a title I gladly accept.
If you are interested in finding out more about this project or if you want to plant trees in Israel, please visit our website: www.IsraelTrees.org