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Aussie Couple: Green Wedding Gift to the Arava

An Australian bride convinced her new husband to donate their wedding money towards a Jewish National Fund project to plant acacias in the Arava.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 1/20/2010, 12:27 PM / Last Update: 1/20/2010, 1:54 PM

A stand of acacia trees was planted this week along the edges of agricultural fields in the sunny Arava north of Eilat, the Tu B’Shvat gift of an Australian bride who convinced her new banker husband that green is more important than gold.

The planting, one of several that will be taking place in the coming days, was carried out as part of a festive ceremony to celebrate the upcoming Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “New Year for Trees.”

Sydney newlyweds Zoe and Darren Smorgon, married one year ago, chose to donate their wedding money towards the “Adopt an Acacia” project run by the Keren Kayemet L’Israel/Jewish National Fund in the Arava. In an interview with the Australian Internet magazine J-Wire, Smorgon described his wife, an architect, as “a bit of a greenie, so donating to the JNF seemed an obvious choice.”

Acacia trees (shittim) were also an obvious choice for the JNF, which noted they are “a characteristic feature of the Arava region.” Its wood is very strong, with prickly branches adorned by yellow flowers.

The acacia is mentioned in the Torah, and its wood was used in the construction of the Tabernacle during the Jews' 40 years of wandering after the Exodus from Egypt. The wood was the material for building the holy altar, the table for the showbreads, and the Ark of the Covenant.

Anatomy of an Acacia Project
The project began a year ago with identifying trees that could reproduce. The organization’s Seed Unit then began to collect, sort and map those seeds that were most suitable from the highest quality trees. Finally, the chosen seeds were transferred to JNF nurseries, where they were carefully germinated and planted.

Meanwhile, staff members were busy teaming up with local farmers to select optimal areas in the Arava where the young trees could flourish once they were placed in the ground. Only open spaces where no future development is planned were eligible for selection, in order to ensure the trees would never be cut down.

Now that the young trees have grown to a sustainable size, they are ready to be planted along the edges of agricultural fields, where the farmers will care for them along with their crops.

The project, which is intended to “form a unique, beautiful savanna desert landscape” is seen by the organization as “the basis for a rich and important ecological system, such as not seen elsewhere in the world." JNF further explained in a statement that “recent decades have witnessed a substantial mortality among the acacia trees accompanied by virtually no natural propagation” – hence, the new project.