A Generation of Jewish Men Joined FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps During the Depression.
Trees have always held a special place in Judaismfrom the Tree of Life depicted in Jewish liturgy and iconography to this week's annual observance of Tu B'Shevat. In fact, trees are considered so important to Jews that the sage Shimon bar Yochai taught that "if you are holding a sapling in your hand, and someone says that the Messiah has drawn near, first plant the sapling, and then go and greet the Messiah." (Avot d'Rebbe Natan 31b)
In the modern Jewish imagination, tree-planting is inexorably tied to the State of Israel and the Jewish National Fund's iconic blue collection boxes. However, many people don't realize that Jews were active participants in what became known as America's own "Tree Army," the Civilian Conservation Corps program of the 1930s. Each year, thousands of young Jewish men were among those who planted 3 billion saplings from Montana to South Carolina. Along the way, the Jews of the CCC explored unfamiliar parts of the country and shed remnants of their immigrant selves, and for the first time embraced both their American and Jewish identities.
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