10 Facts for Tu Bishvat: All About Almonds:

The blossoming almond tree is the symbol of ט”ו בשבט -Tu Bishvat, the “New Year of Trees.” I love seeing the almond flowers appear to burst, literally overnight, into full bloom. The delicate and majestic flowers of the common almond, in shades of white or delicate pink, gradually envelop the exposed stems and can be observed in cultivated orchards and abandoned open areas.

Love the flowers, but the almond trees? The date of flowering is not always exact and often depends on the weather. This has been a relatively warm winter, and the weather caused this Jerusalem almond tree to bloom early.

  1. The spectacular flowers cover the tree in white or pink. They are fragrant and thus stand out in the landscape, becoming a symbol of Tu Bishvat. The almond is called shaked in Hebrew, which means the fastest or most diligent because it blooms first before all other wild and fruit trees in the country.

2. The common almond tree belongs to the rose family, this large family includes about 120 genera and 3200 species. It is common in most areas of the world, especially in temperate zones. Other members of the family are the fruit trees, plum, peach, cherry, and also rose bushes.

3. Four species of almond trees grow in the wild: Arabian almond, harem almond, small-leaved almond, and common almond. It is difficult to distinguish between them.

4. Although the almond is not included among the seven species in the Bible, it has a respectable place in our sources, mentioned many times in the Bible and the Talmud, as one of the five species of zimrat ha’Aretz, considered “the best produce of the Land,” included in the gifts that Jacob told his sons to take to the ruler in Egypt. (Genesis 43:11)

5. The fruit is wrapped in a green peel and changes its color to brown over time. When the fruit ripens, the peel splits in two and usually falls off. The almond seed remains on the tree wrapped in another extremely hard bark that is cracked only by pressure. Another bark envelops the seed cocoons. This shell is thin and brown in color. The part eaten is the seed. Almond fruits are also eaten whole before ripening when the seed coat is still green.

New almond trees blooming near the old Monastery in Jerusalem

6. But, BEWARE! In abandoned areas and orchards, bitter almond trees usually grow. They are used as a cultivar for the cultivated almond. Bitter almond seeds are dangerous to eat. They contain a substance called amygdalin from which the toxin cyanide is released.

7. However, almonds have long been considered a fine fruit for food and medicine. Maimonides praised them: “Almonds are the finest in fruits.” They have great nutritional value and contain, among other things, fat, protein, and calcium. The almond is considered the healthiest food out of 100 tested foods, including avocado and olive oil, (according to the FDA). It has been recommended to eat 7-12 almonds a day.

8. Do cultivated almonds grow in an orchard or vineyard? Planted almond trees grow in a kerem, “vineyard.” The term kerem “vineyard” usually refers to grapes, olive, and almond crops.

9. The Israeli almond industry is in development. In Israel, over 62,000 dunams of almond groves stretch from the south to the Golan Heights. Some of the new varieties have been developed at the Volcani Center.

Almond growing in Israel takes the environment into account, including low water consumption, and sophisticated and focused mechanization. Israel consumes about 10,000 tons every year. Most of the consumption comes from local crops and the rest will come from the United States.

10. Fast then slow? Almond ripening is very slow, in contrast to its agile flowering, it lasts about six months.

Only 5-10% of all almond flowers bear fruit.

I store almonds in the freezer to keep fresh and to keep them out of the way so as to not grab too many to eat at a time.

Almonds, nuts, and dried fruit have been piled high in the shuk, Machane Yehudah Market, and in supermarket displays and stores throughout Jerusalem, Israel over these past weeks.

The present Israeli Knesset building was opened on Tu Bishvat, but no big celebrations this year like 6 years ago for the 50th.

It was 2 years ago for Tu Bishvat, multiple large events were celebrated. The last event I attended at Beit Hanasi before the coronavirus closed the doors of the Israeli President’s Residence was the JNF-KKL Tu Bishvat celebration.

Here’s hoping next year we can celebrate Tu Bishvat together again!

Tu Bishvat Sameach!

My thanks, as every year, to a wonderful friend Sara for providing the information for all things almond and her amazing website with everything you would want to know about the Wildflowers of Israel.

Jerusalem Colors and Hopes

Oh my goodness, we are off to an interesting start for the new year 2022!

Red countries are now green, as rules and regulations changed overnight.

Oh what an upside-down world. Children out during what should be a school day buying ice creams, as their classrooms return to online instruction. Testing positive is bad. Test negative–all is good. The lines for testing are long and longer and the variants seem endless.

A big balloon for 2022 was displayed in Jerusalem’s Takana Rishona, First Station at one eatery.

The winter igloos for restaurant guests to isolate were ready.

But the crowds of tourists were noticeably missing.

At least there was no snow, and the sun came out for a few hours this week.

But the big news to cloud the week was not the weather, but Omicron.

The highly contagious coronavirus variant has the government issuing the go-ahead for the 4th injection for those over 60 years of age and health workers. Free test kits are to be supplied to every child in Israel – in pre-schools and primary schools, as well as teaching staff.

At least our health center was well run and, without the news cameras, the halls were quiet and orderly as people arrived for their appointed times.

Again this week the scene at Jaffa Gate was too quiet without tourists.

The birds resting on the Tower of David above Jaffa Gate seemed to be more than I had ever noticed in the past.

While some areas were lovely scenes not appreciated by visitors,

the food places at Mamilla Mall below were busy with lunchtime crowds.

At Kikar Safra a few people were enjoying the sunny weather and blue sky.

But what caught my interest was the new art on display at Jerusalem’s municipal square, posters by 13 illustrators curated by Dov Abramson.

The artists each portrayed one of the 39 types of work not allowed on Shabbat to create a clever poster.

The colorful posters lined the main Safra Square area

and brightened the way and day for those who stopped to look.

The Jerusalem Theater also had new and different art on display.

Prize-winning quilts lined the wall in the Jerusalem Theater main lobby.

The colorful and clever fabric designs are spread out on various levels throughout the building.

Here is the display outside one of the auditoriums above

and another below the main theater lobby. As you can see I had the entire space to myself on the afternoon I ventured in. Wearing a mask was required, but I saw no other people except staff.

Jerusalem Theater hosts the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. These past weeks of closings the JSO has performed and also posted regularly online. From the Hallelujah Festival – Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms | לאונרד ברנשטיין – מזמורי צ׳יצ׳סטר was the video shown last night. Check it out.

I had never noticed this sign at the Montefiore Windmill in the past -“Guy’s Hope,” but thought it amusing that there was one guy sitting alone on the overlook.

I was on my way to check the new art on the walls at the Mishkanot Sha’ananim gallery by Ilan Baruch, “A Painter Facing the Land.” With so many events canceled and going online, I hope this guy’s exhibition is seen.

With a week with too much not-good news, how good on my way home to see a bride having her photos taken on the stairs at Yemin Moshe.

The old British post boxes were freshly painted. And wonders, since I was last in the area – new public restrooms have been installed!

Jerusalem billboards have been updated announcing upcoming arts and culture, music, and song. Everyone I know is hoping events will be able to go ahead as planned, though many things are going back online this week.

When the sun shines and one can get out to walk about, even stop and talk to a friend or two, along with the gorgeous views, you can almost forget the news.

In spite of the latest health scene, nature can be a source of hope. So good to see the almond blossoms will be ready in time for Tu BeShevat.

Some weeks are harder to find, but good and colorful things on and off the Jerusalem streets await those who take the time to stop and look.

New Year New Start

Oh, what a year 2021 was in Jerusalem, Israel, and around the world.

Jerusalem Jaffa Gate should have been filled with visitors this past week. However, it was quiet enough for these young people to film a video.

In Mamilla Mall people were waiting to be checked to enter a store, not for weapons but for a corona-mandated green pass.

As most people can only dream of flying off to Paris for this holiday, a cosmetic company brought the Eifel Tower to Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall.

We did have some magnificent sunsets to say bye-bye to 2021.

Much of the past year is a one with a time blur, one day running into another. But I can remember where I was standing and who I was speaking with on the phone so many, many years ago when my young son walked in and saw him wearing an IDF uniform for the first time.

“Warrior” / “לוחמת” a new exhibit in memory of Hadas Malka HY’D opened at the Friends of Zion Museum on December 28, 2021.

Hadas Malka, 23, of Moshav Givat Ezer in central Israel, died of wounds sustained in a terrorist attack on June 16, 2017, 22 Sivan 5777, outside the Old City at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate where she was on guard duty.

The exhibit was initiated by her parents David and Geula Malka to illuminate her character, known for diligence and accomplishments.

 Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, former Ambassador Michael Oren, leaders of the Israeli Police, and Border Police joined the Malka family. 

The opening event included speeches to the seated dignitaries and officers.

“If we don’t protect Jerusalem, there will be no State,” was projected on the screen as the Mayor spoke.

Yes, and also we remember the relief when the army service finally came to an end, very different from the Malka family.

Another Jerusalem event held at the Vert Hotel the last week of 2021, celebrated the vision and legacy of the Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. 

The first panel was led by Yifat Erlich, on opportunities for young Olim in Jerusalem 2021. Included were successful immigrants Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Irina Reider. Plus, Yossi Tsuria, CEO of Hilma – Hitech for Society and Security, which includes Carmel 6000, whose programs encourage advanced tech training. Modern chaluztim, today’s young pioneers given a start in very different fields.

The hotel ballroom was filled. People were repeatedly asked to wear masks.

Oh 2021, what a year it was in Jerusalem! I wondered if that would be the last large event – for how long?

As mentioned before, Hansen House has changed so much over the past 10 years, going from an abandoned desolate shell to a site of culture and tech.

At night after a rain delay, ZER0|1NE the hybrid digital art festival took place exploring the connection between art, technology, myth, and magic.  

ZER0|1NEin 2021 aimed to examine the place of technologies and applications with hybrid programming, live and online zoom options.

“Slowly we are beginning to see the community of digital artists blossoming in Israel, and we are excited to give a platform and place to those artists. We hope to grow from year to year and to expand the stage for other artists, and more original productions, while deepening the connection between the creative world and the technological world here in Israel” stated Danielle Zini one of the artistic directors.

The open courtyard design of Conrad Shick’s Hansen House so long ago home for lepers, the venue for corona events looking toward the future.

Paris Fountain in France Square is one of the hundreds of Jerusalem constructions sites unfinished in 2021, a new sign says May 2022 it will be finished.

Another sign near the full 10th Jerusalem Marathon finish line is a favorite and is still up from the event held in October. Only 200 meters to go!

For those of us who made it through 2021, here’s hoping the year ahead is a good and healthy one. Well done!

Instead of recounting the past year as many are doing, I decided to only review the unique events of the past week.

These signs have been posted over Jerusalem streets. Even though many students are presently back on Zoom school, it’s time to register for next year’s places in nursery and elementary schools.

It’s time to look to the future, to a better and hopefully healthier 2022.

Still hoping to see you on the Jerusalem streets- and soon!