Tu B’Shevat: New Year of the Trees

Not Your Grandparents' Shtel: Exploring Jewish Culture in Western Mass by Amy Meltzer

Tu B’Shevat: A Birthday Celebration for the Trees

Last month, I wrote about the Hebrew calendar and the lunar months that make up the Jewish year. The month of Shevat began with the last crescent moon, and features one of my favorite holidays of the entire year – Tu B’Shevat (which means, literally, the 15th of Shevat.)

Tu B’shevat is best known as the New Year of the Trees, or the Birthday of the Trees. Why, you might ask, do trees need their own New Year, and why would all trees celebrate one birthday no matter when they were planted? The primary reason is that there are several Biblical commandments that require knowing a tree’s age. The ancient law of Orlah prohibits eating any tree-grown fruit until it hits the ripe old age of four; agricultural tithes also depend on the age of a tree. Rather than expect people to keep track of each individual tree’s birthday, the Rabbis determined that all trees would share one birthday – the 15th of Shevat – for the purpose of these calculations.

In Medieval Times, Jewish mystics, knows as the Kabbalists, recognized Tu B’Shevat as an opportunity not just for running the numbers, but for honoring and celebrating trees (and by extension, all of creation.) They developed a Tu B’Shevat seder, not unlike the Passover seder, in which participants would eat and drink a variety of symbolic foods that grow on trees while reciting prayers and studying ancient texts. In recent years, the Tu B’shevat seder has become a popular and eclectic tradition. Some seders still delve into the complex and esoteric themes of the ancient kabbalists. Many seders focus instead on the theme of environmental stewardship, while others are more simple affairs – a chance to eat, sing and tell stories while celebrating a love of trees. There are many seders for all ages taking place in the area this month. If you would rather try your own, there are some wonderful resources are compiled at the website of Hazon, a Jewish organization dedicated to sustainability. I especially loved this animated version of a traditional story about Honi the Circle Maker and the the importance of planting for future generations:

If you are looking for other ideas for how to honor the birthday of the trees, I’ve offered 15 suggestions over at Homeshuling.

In Israel, Tu B’shevat falls just as the rainy season is coming to an end and the almond trees begin to bloom. In New England, Tu B’Shevat falls in the dead of winter. Nevertheless, it is a great opportunity to start keeping an eye open for one of our most beloved gifts from trees – the maple sap which will soon be rising and boiling up at sugar shacks all over Western Massachusetts. When I write next month’s post, I hope to be baking up treats for the holiday of Purim with fresh maple syrup!

Here’s the round up of events for families interested in learning more about Jewish culture in Western MA. Hope to see you at one of these great programs!

  • Friday, Feb. 3rd at 5:30pm is an intergenerational family service and concurrent Tot Shabbat. Followed by a vegetarian potluck dinner. (Bring a nut free, vegetarian dish to feed 10-15 people). For more info contact Jody Rosenbloom at 413-256-0160 x203. Jewish Community of Amherst. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)
  • Saturday, Feb. 4th at 11am is Tot Shabbat with Peggy Walker, a fun, active event celebrating Shabbat for ages 5 and under. Contact CBI religious school for more info: 413-584-3593 x203. Congregation B’nai Israel. 253 Prospect St. Northampton, MA. (FREE)
  • Saturday, Feb. 4th at 10:45am is Shabbat B’Yachad/Shabbat Together, an ecclectic morning for all ages. Choose from a range of activities. At 9am is Shabbat yoga with Corinne Andrews. Services begin at 10am with lively song on this “Shabbat Shira.” At 10:45am is a traditional Torah service and hevruta study as well as a choice of artistic and movement choices for Torah expression. By noon we are back together finishing services by 12:30pm. Followed by a potluck Shabbat meal – bring a vegetarian, nut-free dish to feed 10-15 people. For more info contact Jody Rosenbloom at 413-256-0160 x203. Jewish Community of Amherst. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)
  • Sunday, Feb. 5th from 10am-12noon is Hand in Hand Family Education Program for children in Pre-K and Kindergarten. This month celebrate Tu BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees. 413-663-5830. Congregation Beth Israel. 53 Lois Street. North Adams, MA.  (FREE)
  • Sunday, Feb. 5th from 10:30am-12noon  are Tu B’Shevat activities, songs and crafts in ‘stations.’ Grades k-6 and Parents.events are geared towards family participation. You do not have to be part of our religious school to attend. 413-584-3593 x203. Congregation B’nai Israel. 253 Prospect St. Northampton, MA. (FREE)

  • Monday, Feb. 6th from 10:30-11:30am is Trees and Treats for Tu B’Shevat- Celebrate the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat (The New Year of the Trees) with a reading of Apple Tree’s Discovery by Peninnah Schram and Rachayl Eckstein Davis. Learn new songs, participate in “tree-mendous” craft projects, and sample tasty fruit snacks at this fun-filled Tu B’Shevat Party. Part of the PJ Pals series, a Jewish book-based program for young children (ages 1-5) and their parents/caregivers. Contact Susan Frisch Lehrer, 413-442-4360 x14, jfb.volunteer@verizon.net. Held at The Church On The Hill Chapel. 55 Main St. Lenox, MA.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 8th at 6pm is a Tu BiShvat seder – A feast for the senses: fruits, nuts, wine and juice, mystical meanings, a journey up the Tree of Life…and also a dairy/veg potluck, since one cannot live by ritual foods alone. Designed for adults and teens who would enjoy a spiritual, intellectual exploration of the holiday. 413-663-5830 Congregation Beth Israel. 53 Lois Street. North Adams, MA. (FREE)
  • Wednesday Feb. 8th from 4:30-5:30pm is a Tu B’Shevat Seder led by Rabbi Ari Rosenberg. 413-528-6378. Hevreh of Southern Berkshire. 270 State Road. Great Barrington, MA. (Event is free — but reservations are a must.)
  • Friday, Feb. 10th from 1-2pm, “Beetles” Tu B’Shvat with Felicia Sloin: Come for a rockin’ good time with Felicia, her puppets, and your PJ Pals buddies! Celebrate the beautiful, budding trees and fruits of the season like grapes, figs, pomegranates, and olives. Be prepared for a truly fun and special musical presentation! For more information contact LGA, 413-584-6622, x117, mshelasky@lgaschechter.org. Lander~Grinspoon Academy. 257 Prospect St. Northampton, MA (FREE)
  • Saturday, Feb. 11th at 11am is Family Minyan with Anna Sobel. Creative family-friendly shabbat service geared towards grades 2-5 – but everyone is welcome. Contact CBI religious school at 413-584-3593 x203. Congregation B’nai Israel. 253 Prospect St. Northampton, MA. (FREE)
  • Saturday Feb. 11th from 6:30-7:45pm is The Owls of Shevat. Come join Maggid David Arfa (Mah-geed; Storyteller) for this night hike around Arms Cemetery in Shelburne Falls. Learn a few owl calls (by doing of course!), and who knows, one may even call back. The hike is easy- a paved circle less than 1 mile with resting pavilion near the end. At the very least, enjoy the night sky filled with stars (and maybe clouds), drink hot chocolate (provided), and hear a few good stories of Judaism’s ancient love affair with the moon. All ages are welcome. Please RSVP by Thursday Feb 9, by calling David Arfa: 413.625.2164, or email: david@maggiddavid.net. Meet at Arms Cemetery entrance, on Mechanic Street, North of Route 2, just before the Deerfield River bridge. Shelburne Falls, MA (>$)
  • Sunday, Feb. 12th from 10am-12Noon the PJ Library presents Respecting the Environment – Learn how important it is to care for our natural environment. What happens when we plant a seed? What does recycling mean? Why do we need to be aware of turning off lights and the water faucet? Contact Susan Frisch Lehrer at 413-442-4360 x14 or email jfb.volunteer@verizon.net. Sinai Academy of the Berkshires. 199 South Street. Pittsfield, MA. (FREE)
  • Sunday, Feb. 12th from 10am-noon is an Avodah family education program for kids in 1st through 4th grades. This month celebrate Tu BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees. 413-663-5830. Congregation Beth Israel. 53 Lois Street. North Adams, MA. (FREE)
  • Sunday, Feb. 12th from 10-11:45am  is Whose Bar/Bat Mitzvah Is This, Anyway? Fifth & sixth graders and their parents are invited to a morning workshop with author, family therapist and congregant, Judith Davis, Ed.D. Based on her work, Whose Bar/Bat Mitzvah Is This, Anyway? A Guide for Parents Through a Family Rite of Passage, Judy Davis will encourage participants to embrace the challenges and opportunities of children becoming b’nai mitzvah. She guides a thoughtful and stimulating conversation ranging from the psychological and developmental issues of the bar/bat mitzvah year to creating meaning for the whole family. Contact: Jody Rosenbloom at 413-256-0160 x203. Jewish Community of Amherst. 742 Main Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)
  • Saturday, Feb. 18th at 11am. Shabbat Sing. Celebrate Shabbat with music and songs. Everyone is welcome. Contact: Contact CBI religious school for more info: 413-584-3593 x203. Congregation B’nai Israel. 253 Prospect St. Northampton, MA. (FREE)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Meltzer

Amy is a Kindergarten teacher at Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, MA, and the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door, and The Shabbat Princess. She writes the blog Homeshuling for Beliefnet, and a monthly column for the Jewish parenting site Kveller.com. Amy lives in Northampton, MA with her husband and two daughters.

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