Tu BiShevat Festival (starts on February 10, 2020)

We are delighted to welcome our first guest blogger (of many to come we hope) – Eileen Silver. Welcome, Eileen!

Tu BiShevat – The Jewish Holiday of Trees

by Eileen Silver

Many thanks to Catherine and Lucia for asking me to contribute to their thoughtful and insightful “tree blog”. When Catherine first told me about the blog, I was amazed at the plethora of ideas she and Lucia had amassed for potential blog topics. One topic that I was pretty sure they had not considered though, was the upcoming Jewish holiday of Tu BiShevat, also known as the Jewish new year for trees. No joke! The Jewish people have many celebrations and holidays, and a holiday celebrating trees is indeed an annual event.

So what exactly is Tu BiShevat, and how is it celebrated? Tu BiShevat gets its name from the date on which the holiday occurs, the 15th of Shevat. “Tu” being the Hebrew numerological value for 15, and “Shevat” being the month in the Hebrew calendar that generally coincides with January/February of the civil calendar. This year, Tu BiShevat will begin at sunset on February 10th and end in the evening of February 11th.

In ancient times, Tu BiShevat represented a time of the year in the agricultural cycle in which the Jewish people brought their first-fruit offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Produce from fourth-year fruit trees were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as “first-fruit” offerings, since Jewish law (Torah) forbids Jews from eating the fruit of new trees for three years after they are planted. According to the Torah (Leviticus 19:23-25), the fourth year’s fruit is to be “tithed” (given as a form of offering to God). Tu BiShevat is counted as the birthday for all trees for tithing purposes.

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the pioneers of the country seized on Tu BiShevat as a day to promote tree-planting efforts in Israel. Particularly in the early decades of the establishment of the State, it was customary for citizens of Israel, as well as Jewish people throughout the Diaspora, to observe Tu BiShevat by planting trees in Israel, or collecting money towards planting trees in Israel.

In modern times, and particularly over the past few decades, Tu BiShevat has increasingly been viewed as an appropriate occasion for Jews to focus on ecological education and caring for the environment, often through teaching of Jewish sources and celebrating nature. For many, Tu BiShevat has developed into an ecological holiday that reminds Jews of their connection to the earth and to their role as caretakers of the environment.

And what would a Jewish holiday be without a celebration of food? It is customary on Tu BiShevat for Jews to eat fruits, particularly fruits associated with Israel. The seven species of “fruits” that are endemic to the Land of Israel are often eaten on Tu BiShevat. They are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

olive branch

It is also customary for Jews to try and eat a new fruit on Tu BiShevat, which can be any seasonal fruit that they have not tasted during the year. I generally associate eating carob (boxer, St-John’s -bread) with Tu BiShevat, as it is a fruit grown in Israel that many people eat during the holiday.

Centuries old, the holiday of Tu BiShevat could not be more relevant today! So, whether you practice Judaism or not, as February 10-11 approaches, think about “the holiday of the trees”, and consider doing something special for the environment…. plant a tree, increase your recycling efforts, be mindful about using reusable products rather than single use paper products.

Happy Tu BiShevat to all!

Thank you, Eileen and we wish you “Chag Sameach” (Happy Holiday)!

Good News Story from Sudbury, Ontario

Thank you to reader, Jean, for sharing this good news story about her home town, Sudbury. She (and we) are excited to learn from this Chatham News article about the success that four decades of regreening efforts are yielding now, as evidenced by the return of the “mighty lake trout” to the local habitat.

As regreening program supervisor, Tina McCaffey notes, “We hear all the time – especially through social media – of areas around the world where species are lost and habitats are destroyed…Sudbury is an example to the world of what can be done…It is only in the last few decades – and owing primarily to advancements in mining technology and their cleaner practices – that lake trout have returned to the lakes of the Nickel City…” Read the full story on Sudbury’s sucessful biodiversity action plan at: https://bit.ly/2vhQCRz.

We look forward to welcoming our second guest blogger next week, who will share his family’s experience with installing a solar panel roof.

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