The history of modern Israel can arguably be told through its trees.
Forested landmarks mark battles, settlements, roads and monuments, each of which has a piece of the narrative that together weaves the story of the Jewish people in the modern era. Trees are also swamped in the history of the Jewish collective, with forested areas” providing living testimony to worldwide collaborations of the Jewish people through the Jewish National Fund.
Now, the trees are ready to embark on another chapter in the Jewish story. For the first time in JNF history, a woman is heading the national foresting efforts in Israel. Despite mythic legends of women planting and sweating alongside men to build the State of Israel, women never held leadership positions in this field — until today. Era Heitin was recently appointed the Head Forest Ranger for the JNF in Israel, (a profession held by very few women in Israel), and will be given the prestigious job of lighting one of the flames at the national candle-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
“When I was young, I would look out my window in Ma’alot and see the beautiful trees,” Era said in an interview with Oded Shalom and Gidon Meron in last week’s Yediot Aharonot. “Who would have thought that the beautiful landscape would become my profession?”
Heitin, 29, was born in Latvia and immigrated to Israel at the age of 12. “For me, personally, the work in the forest gives me the feeling of getting away from the everyday race that everyone is in,” she told Yediot. “And yes, going around the forests, with the sounds and smells of the leaves, does it for me.”
Throughout JNF’s entire 109-year history, the organization has had very few women forest rangers, and never in the number one spot. Moreover, JNF, like many Zionist organizations, has never had a woman at the helm. Even today, the top leadership remains all male, and one is hard-pressed to find women on the Board of Directors. The Jewish Agency has also never had a woman as number one, (although Carole Solomon chaired the Board of Governors from 2003-2007), and has very few women on its board altogether. At Keren Hayesod, although a woman, Johanna Arbib Perugia, heads the almost Board of Trustees, which, besides her, has only one other woman member, the Board of Directors does not have even one woman member.
“Perhaps we have been a bit chauvinistic at JNF,” admitted Yisrael Tauber, the Director of the Department of Forest Management at JNF, to the Yediot reporters. Indeed.
Today, Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees than it did 100 years ago, thanks, in large part, JNF. In that sense, the trees tell a story of optimism and progress. But Era is here to ensure that the story of progress continues, not just with Israel’s forestry and infrastructure, but also with Israeli society in general — especially with the women.