A tree-mendous mitzvah: Tu B’Shevat marked with massive planting at Temple Shalom

How many trees each year do you think Metro Louisville loses each year? One hundred? One thousand? Maybe 10,000?
Would you believe approximately 50,000 trees each year?
It’s true, and it has been happening for at least 20 years, according to area tree experts.
Louisville has seen more than one million trees die or cut down for a variety of reasons. Too many were not replaced.
That’s too many for Joshua White, who has made it his personal mission to replace those trees, with help from Jewish Louisville.
“It’s a generational lack of putting trees back that have been wiped out, either through development, or natural causes,” said White, a bioengineer and Sierra Club member who organizes tree plantings citywide. “The reason we need trees in Louisville is not just aesthetic. If I plant trees, ultimately I’ll pay 20 percent less in energy costs.”
White brought his skills and knowledge to Temple Shalom on Sunday, February 4. He directed some 70 volunteers, who marked Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for trees, by planting 41 trees of 39 different varieties on synagogue grounds.

Josh White served as project manager for the Temple Shalom tree planting. (photos by Bruce Snyder)

The group was not just planting trees, but creating, what Temple Shalom is calling the Children’s Arboretum. The project complements its Founders Garden, which is nearing completion. The arboretum will be formally dedicated later this year.
(Community Editor Lee Chottiner is a member of Temple Shalom and served on the planning committee for the project.)
Before planting began, White ran an orientation for the volunteers, jumping into a pre-dug hole and using a shovel to demonstrate how to measure the placement of each sapling so it would grow straight, not at an angle.
“I like that Josh gave us all this information, so we do it properly,” said Jennifer Jacobson, who took part in the planting with her 9-year-old son, Carson. “It’s nice to have a professional to help us; it’s so important to plant trees properly, or else we would have just filled the holes, and we might have planted the trees incorrectly.
“There aren’t that many things I will do in a day that have an eternal impact,” Jacobson continued, “so it’s nice to do something that will last for generations.”
Added Carson, “I’ll come back here with my family one day and show them that I planted these trees, that I was able to help.”
Also planting were more than 20 students and faculty from the High School for Jewish Studies. Their principal, Sarah Harlan, embraced the project, instructing her students to report to Temple Shalom instead of Jewish Family & Career Services, where they normally have class.
Two students, Avi Hiken and Brent Mannel, were excited about the planting for different reasons.
“I’m hoping that someday, when I come back, I’ll see the trees have grown,” Avi said, “and I’ll feel good about seeing these trees fully blossomed.”
Brent lauded the teamwork involved.
“When you work with people you don’t know, it helps you build better people skills,” he said. “When I get older, maybe I can do one of these by myself, or lead one of these.”
Willa Kornstein, 14, said the planting reinforced her desire to … er … put down roots in Louisville.
“It will feel good to know I did something,” she said. “I feel like I want to stay in Louisville, so when I have kids, we can all come back here to see what we did today.”
One of White’s pet peeves is that many Jews regularly send money to Israel to plant trees, while ignoring the lack of trees in their own cities.
White, who is Jewish, hopes to change that. He said Adath Jeshurun has already held a planting of its own, and that other congregations are interested.
“It will make me feel at peace,” White said. “I’ll feel a little bit better. It’ll be one less thing that needs to be done to make our city a better place for our children.”

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