Muir Woods trails

Muir Woods, United States Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash


On a beautiful, chilly January morning, my family and I made our way up the path in Muir Woods National Monuments of California. As part of a planned family reunion, my children had made early morning reservations. A weak sun shone through the trees, a small creek caught the light and the redwoods soared above us. I was in the woods again—an absolutely pristine national woods that had survived fires and earthquakes to awe us with its beauty.

History Under Construction

Muir Woods, managed by the National Park Service, is located on Mount Tamalpais near the Pacific coast in southwestern Marin County, Calif. It contains 240 acres of old growth coast redwoods, formally known as Sequoia sempervirens. Although ancestors of these trees covered much of the United States millions of years ago, the majority of Sequoia trees are now found on this narrow, cool, damp strip of land.

About halfway through our adventure, I stopped to observe unusual signage. With its large caption, “History Under Construction,” the board told the background of the monument as it was first written and later updated to reflect not only the contributions of its original supporters but also the hereto unmentioned role of the Native Americans, whose stewardship had started thousands of years before the original timeline and ended when they were literally wiped out by disease and public policies. Updated information also included the role of the women who were critical in saving Muir Woods from commercialization and logging.

Most importantly, the updated board unblinkingly took an honest look at the complex legacies of the park’s founders, many who believed in white superiority that extended beyond the park’s borders. John Muir, for whom the park was named, used racist language when writing about Native Americans. William Kent, championed as a conservationist for donating the land to the federal government as well as authoring the legislation that established the United States National Park Service, also lead an anti-Asian policy and rhetoric, He and the other “champions,” Gifford Pinchot, Madison Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt, were all proponents of eugenics, the set of beliefs and practices which aimed at improving the genetic quality of the human population, in part by forced sterilization the members of disfavored minority groups.

“The role of the National Park Service is to preserve history — the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between,” stated in 2023 article on the U.S. National Parks Service website, “History Under Construction.” “It’s not our job to judge what history is worth telling, but to share an accurate and comprehensive history.”

I appreciated the way in which Muir Woods had not “cancelled” history but revised the way it was presented to show a more realistic, seemingly unbiased view of the park.

Trees In Judaism

It was not until my husband Larry and I were flying home from our California trip that I realized the timing of our visit was also significant on the Jewish calendar. Tu B’Shevat, known as Israel’s Arbor Day, is held on the 15th of the month of Shevat. This year, it occurs on Jan. 25th, a day that The Jewish World is published.

The importance of trees and the environment dates back biblical descriptions of the Garden of Eden and its reference to a tree of life. Post-biblically, Tu B’Shevat started out as an agricultural festival that helped farmers mark the passing seasons, one of four “birthdays” in the Jewish calendar. Based on, in my opinion, a fairly complicated connection to taxes and tithing, the holiday disappeared after the destruction of the Second Temple. In the 16th century, the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed and his disciples revived it by instituting a Tu B’Shevat seder in which the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel were given symbolic meaning, with the belief that prayers offered at the ritual meal would bring humans and the world to spiritual perfection.

Environmental Connection

On Tu B’Shevat 1890, Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz, one of the founders of the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement, and his students planted trees in the agricultural town of Zikhron Ya’akov in Israel. The Jewish Teachers Union adopted it in 1908.It was later taken over by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) established in 1901 to oversee land reclamation and afforestation of the Land of Israel.

Modern Jews view the holiday as the opportunity make a Jewish connection to contemporary ecological issues, including responsible stewardship of our planet and ecological activism. This was most clear to me in Hazon’s Tu B’Shvat Haggadah. Along with the explanation and prayers for the four glasses of wine and four fruits, the booklet (available online) offers way in which one can get involved in climate action, food sustainability, soil advocacy, and educational resources focusing on the environment.

For Tomorrow

Meanwhile, we can continue the custom Rabbi Yavetz and his students started 133 years ago: planting trees. Since 1901, JNF has planted over 250 million trees, created and built over 240 reservoirs and dams, developed over 250,000 acres of land, and established more than 2,000 parks. As suggested on Clifton Park’s Congregation Beth Shalom website, trees can be planted in support of the hostages, in support of Israeli troops, in memory of a loved one, or just because you would like to plant a tree in Israel. In addition, JNF is providing extended services since the October 7 attack on Israel physical, medical, and emotional support as needed. Furthermore, the organization gives the communities devastated by the war “the promise of rebuilding for tomorrow.”

For those of us who care about our planet’s future we need to continue to visit and support beautiful places like Muir Woods and celebrate beautiful holidays like Tu B’Shevat. Chag Sameach!

Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. Keep Calm and Bake Challah: How I Survived the Pandemic, Politics, Pratfalls, and Other of Life’s Problems is the newest addition to her line-up of books. It joins Tikkun Olam, There Goes My Heart and Fradel’s Story, a compilation of stories by her mother that she edited. Shapiro’s blog is

The text in white was featured on the original timeline. Everything in yellow was added by the United States Park Service