By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- An ancient tree is undergoing a revival in Indian River County with a message of unity and hope.
Last month, Rabbi Michael Birnholz of Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach joined the Rev. Scott Alexander of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Vero Beach in planting an olive tree at his church.
The olive tree at the Unitarian Universalist Church is the latest olive tree to be planted in Indian River County as part of the "Olive Trees of Fellowship" program started by Rabbi Birnholz to encourage religious communities to come together.
In the account of Noah in the book of Genesis, Noah releases a dove from the ark twice, and the second time it returns with an olive branch or an olive leaf, Rabbi Birnholz said.
The olive branch or olive tree has stood as a sign of hope amid chaos and confusion ever since.
Other religious institutions have joined in this program since 2009, including Roseland United Methodist in Sebastian, Our Savior Lutheran Church in Vero Beach and St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Vero Beach, Rabbi Birnholz said.
"The place (in North Florida) where we get our olive trees from, said that there have been about 50 trees purchased from our referrals, so there are individuals and religious communities getting involved," he said.
According to growers, areas that can grow citrus can grow olive trees, and the olive trees planted in the area are growing, but the harvesting of olives isn't quite what everyone expected.
Originally the idea was to have trees produce olives so the community could come together and they could be pressed and the oil used in religious services, including Hanukkah, Rabbi Birnholz said.
The Rev. Alexander said he hopes to replace the oil in his church's chalice with oil pressed from olives from their tree, a press release said.
Although the olive trees have not produced enough for a full harvest, for several years Temple Beth Shalom decided to go ahead with pressing their own oil using purchased olives.
Historically, the pressing of olives is a community activity, Rabbi Birnholz said.
"Everyone would have olive trees and bring their fruit, to the community press and usually one family would be in charge of the olive press. It takes so many trees to produce enough oil for the year, so everyone would come together for it," he said.
On Nov. 2 at 2 p.m., 80 pounds of olives will be pressed at Temple Beth Shalom on an olive press built by Boy Scouts from Troop 567 and the oil produced will be used this winter and throughout the next year, Rabbi Birnholz said.
Everyone is invited to the event to be a part of the experience, he said.
For more information about the Olive Trees for Fellowship project, contact Rabbi Birnholz at (772) 569-4700 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.