By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat for Zeek
my house, we receive free Jewish books and music from the PJ library.
One of their recent gifts is Joanie Leeds’ CD Family Tree, which our
4-year-old son adores. His favorite track is the first one, which he
knows now by heart. He sings along with great gusto: “I want to be
green! I want to be green! Take care of the earth and keep it clean!”
the CD arrived earlier this winter, I thought, “Cute, it’s a Tu B’Shvat
CD.” Of course, the whole thing isn’t Tu B’Shvat-focused. But there’s a
song about taking care of the earth, and another song about tikkun
olam. Given the timing of the CD’s arrival, I couldn’t help seeing it as
a kid-friendly offering for “Jewish earth day.”
It’s fun to
teach a 4-year-old about Tu B’Shvat. We’ll probably sing happy birthday
to the trees in the backyard, and bless and eat a variety of tree fruits
and nuts at a kiddie Tu B’Shvat seder at the synagogue. Maybe we’ll try
to connect trees with taking care of the earth, the way Kai-Lan cleans
up garbage in the back yard for the sake of the snails.
For adults, Tu B’Shvat offers opportunities for more meaningful reflection.
B’Shvat reminds us to go outside and encounter the natural world where
we are. Here in the Diaspora, Tu B’Shvat posters and food traditions
remind us of the foodways of our Mediterranean ancestors, including
Israel’s blooming almond trees. Where I live, Tu B’Shvat usually means
bare trees rising out of snow.
Usually Tu B’Shvat falls during
sugaring season in western Massachusetts. The maple sap rises when the
days are above freezing and the nights are still cold. All around my
region, plastic tubing sprouts like new growth, funneling sap drop by
drop into collection buckets and tanks for boiling.