Tu b’Shevat is coming up at the end of the month and although it is a holiday that is not well known in the US, it is increasing in popularity. Unless you have a kid in religious school or are pretty observant yourself, you probably haven’t heard of it. Quickly for the uninitiated: Tu b’Shevat literally means “the 15th day of the month Shevat.” It is a minor Jewish holiday, begun in ancient times, that gives fruit trees a birthday so farmers could calculate the appropriate tithe (given as produce) for the Temple. In modern times it is now celebrated as an Arbor Day or Earth Day and because of the increasingly urgent ecological issues facing our planet, has become an important day to consider one’s own environmental activism.
If you don’t have an established Tu b’Shevat custom, there are a variety of things you can do to commemorate the day and begin the New Year with a mitzvah.
Do a Green Service
If you live in a metropolitan area, there are dozens of environmentally focused initiatives you can lend a hand to. You can plant trees, plant a garden in an urban area, or for a non-profit that needs it. Many congregations have a Green Chavurah that facilitates projects and you don’t have to be a member of the congregation to help out…it’s free! Maybe you have seen a needful organization in your area that could use their landscaping spruced up (only offer your services if you plan to own it and finish it through to the conclusion though). If you feel bashful signing up yourself, corral a friend to go with you or talk to your family about doing it as a family activity.
Plant a Tree in Israel
You can plant a tree by volunteering as mentioned above or you can plant a tree in Israel. Planting at tree in Israel is an incredibly symbolic act that has its origins in the beginning of the Zionist movement when one of the first things returning Jews did was plant trees in an effort to restore the ecology of Israel to something productive and able to sustain a growing population. You can start here with my primer on How to Plant a Tree in Israel.
Have a Seder
Yes, there are Tu b’Shevat seders! A Tu b’Shevat seder typically focuses on personal growth and your connection to the natural world. It can be as large or small as you want, as formal or as informal. Check out this one I developed a few years ago, A Four Course Tu b’Shevat Seder with suggested menu, blessings, and discussion topics.
Attend a Tu b’Shevat Festival
If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there is a Tu b’Shevat festival, go check it out. The purpose of such festivals is usually to get you in touch with organizations that help facilitate many of the items on this list, in addition to perhaps an overarching fundraiser for an environmental non-profit.
Make a Green Resolution
This one you can do all by your lonesome and it doesn’t require anything other than your brain. Take a look at your own life and how you can perhaps reduce your and your family’s environmental footprint. Can you recycle more? Can you use your heating and cooling less? Can you drive less? Can you water your garden less? Can you generate less waste? Check out my tips for Zero Waste and the Jewish Home to get you started on the latter. Make your resolution measurable so it is easy to see whether you are doing it. For example, if you produce 2 bags of black bin refuse each week and you reduce that to 1? Can you change your thermostat 2 degrees higher or lower? Can you reduce your watering timer by 1 minute? Be sure to write down your resolution, so you can see it all year.
We can all do something more to celebrate Tu b’Shevat. Like many Jewish traditions, this one too provides us an interesting dichotomy…is it the least important Jewish holiday, or is it actually the most important?