Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tu B’Shvat Reflections on Parenthood, Extreme Weather, and the Human Family Tree

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat for Zeek

 Tu B’Shvat ReflectionsIn 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!”

When 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.

Tu 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.

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