December 8, 2005, marked the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. Millions of Beatles fans the world over were shocked and saddened by the unprovoked shooting outside Lennon’s New York apartment building in 1980. Later that week, they stood for 10 minutes of silence, as requested by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono.
In Israel, a group of Jewish and Arab teenagers in Safed shared their grief with a social worker. Six weeks later, on Tu B’Shevat, a few trees were planted in Lennon’s memory outside the mystical hillside city. Acting at the young people’s request, Jewish National Fund, through its New York office, sought and received Ono’s consent to establish a John Lennon Forest. Beatles fans could purchase the trees; it would be a living memorial to Lennon in the Galilee.
A letter in Rolling Stone magazine informed those outside Israel of the project and provided an address for donations. Lennon fans responded with donations and offers to solicit interest at Beatles conventions and in Beatles fanzines.
“Supporting this project was something more constructive to do than buying souvenirs and tribute books that were coming out about Lennon,” remembered longtime Beatles fan Charles Rosenay of New Haven, Conn. Tables were set up at Beatles conventions in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Liverpool. It was a bit daunting soliciting funds for Jewish National Fund in England during the 1982 Lebanon War. Nevertheless the idea aroused some interest, and donations were collected.
Beatles fans, both Jewish and non, purchased one tree at a time and received a certificate from JNF with “John Lennon Peace Forest” typed on it. After five years, donations were received for 5,000 trees — enough to achieve JNF Woodland status. The donations had come from a total of 14 countries. A permanent stone marker was placed near the 46-kilometer marker on the Meron-Safed road.
After the marker was erected, containing words from the Lennon song “Imagine,” active fund raising slowed. Ono went to Israel in 2000 to open up an art exhibition at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, but she did not visit the site. The living memorial still grows, inviting all to “lie beneath a shady tree,” as The Beatles once sang.
Tree purchases still can be designated for the Lennon forest. Twenty-five years after his death, Lennon is again the focus of a new generation of books and tributes. A newly planted tree will likely outlive them all.