Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of Trees, falls on the fifteenth day of the month of Shvat. It originated in a pagan festival honoring Asherah, goddess of farmers and fertility. Her chief festival took place at the end of the rainy season, when the sap begins to rise in the fruit trees of Israel. – in other words, at the first signs of spring.
In recent years, Jewish communities around the world have begun to celebrate Tu B’Shvat as a “Jewish Earth Day” – organizing seders, tree-plantings, ecological restoration activities, and educational events, all of which provide an opportunity to express a Jewish commitment to protecting the earth. Our intergenerational Jewish Earth Day program is popular with all ages and includes ritual, music and dinner.
Tu B’Shvat represents one of the three agricultural holidays (along with Sukkot and Shavuot) that reveal the matriarchic roots of Judaiism, a time before Eve was expelled from the Garden and Queen Vashti tossed out for not showing up at the King’s banquet. Tu B’Shvat originated in a pagan festival honoring Asherah, goddess of farmers and fertility. As we reflect on our stewardship of nature, our act of gathering to share food, music and fellowship, some might ask: We don’t farm anymore. Why do we need this celebration? Here are two ideas to consider:
The symbolism in the service has a simple beauty that’s easy to understand for all ages. We think about all four seasons and use fruits as metaphors of four different ways people are like the seasons. For instance, we read that “…In winter we eat nuts, they have hard shells on the outside and are soft inside. Some people are like nuts. They are hard on the outside and difficult to get to know, but we are rewarded when we peel away the top layer and discover their inner warmth and love.”
Children and new families in attendance remind us that although we don’t each farm our own food, we must cultivate our community and next generation of the CHJ. We talk about Tikkun Olam, or the Jewish value of “Repairing the World”. The deep commitment to Tikkun Olam of our late member, Lucy Katz, who revived this holiday for CHJ, was evident in all she did. She’s our role model as we try to find ways to repair the world, our environment. Our next generation will inherit the “fruits” of our efforts and, we hope, pass down our teachings and instill these values in their children for generations to come.
These photos are from the 2015 celebration. The service, the music, and the food, the extra-ordinarily talented musicians, G Rockwell and Anna Slate, who sang so beautifully as cantor at our High Holiday services. The organizers were Lisa Sullivan, Marcia Kosstrin, Joan Shaw. And so the Congregation becomes an integral part of all our lives.