Achray Forest, near Aberfoyle, was the venue for SCoJeC's latest activity, which was enjoyed by 23 adults and 10 children from throughout Scotland's central belt.
This was the first time we have organised an event to celebrate Tu b'Shevat, which is the traditional “new year for trees”, and marks the beginning of spring in Israel, and it was our second collaboration with Forestry Scotland, who arranged our day out in the countryside complete with tree planting, a trip to a bird and squirrel hide, and a kosher buffet.
First everyone had had the chance to help place a sapling in its new home, and then came the buffet, which included no fewer than 15 species of fruit, over which the blessings were said by Efrat Dgani and Walter Sneader. Then, after lunch,
staff from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds took members of the group on a guided nature walk to the squirrel and bird hide, explaining en route how to get the best out of the binoculars. "The guides gave us the benefit of their experience", one couple told us, "and could not have been more understanding and pleasant."
Two Israeli families, whose young children were very excited at the prospect of the tree planting, told us about their memories of Tu b'Shevat in Israel. One had been part of a kibbutz tree-planting expedition as a young girl, where she and her friends had been entrusted with the job of planting trees along the path to the cemetery. Twelve years later, she went back to the kibbutz to attend a funeral and was surprised but proud to realise that the tall strong tree in front of her was none other than the tiny sapling she had planted all those years earlier.
There were also local Tu b'Shevat memories from a former member of the Habonim youth group in Scotland, who remembered taking part in tree-planting ceremonies that were accompanied by long hikes, camping and bivouacking along the way – but two other Glasgow men admitted that this Sunday was the very first time they had ever planted a tree!
“It was a completely different Sunday afternoon, and it was good to meet Jewish people from elsewhere in Scotland. The whole day was amazing, the guides were fab.” said one participant, summing up his day, while another commented that the event was “A mixture of outdoors, education, and lots of different people to speak to, with a bit of Jewish culture added in – a unique experience for us, and right on our doorstep!”