Connecting with Tu BiShvat
By Rabbi Craig Axler, Temple Isaiah
Tu BiShvat has been a particular favorite holiday of mine for many years. The connection to our natural world; the centrality of the Land, People and State of Israel; the chance to nosh some delicious fruits; the sense that in the middle of winter, something is stirring and growing under the frozen earth. All of these and more are the reasons why I love Tu BiShvat.
When I was 20 years old, I spent a year living and volunteering on Kibbutz Tzora. Among my volunteer jobs was tending the almond trees. We trimmed and shaped the trees in the Fall so they would grow properly through the Winter. We spent hours looking for branches that were growing in the wrong direction or trees that needed to be pruned. It was not exciting work!
My friend Ollie and I had heard the popular Israeli children’s song “HaShkeydiah Porachat” which claims that the Almond trees blossom ON Tu BiShvat! Generations of Israeli schoolchildren learned the song, and know that Almond trees, as opposed to almost every other fruit tree native to the Land of Israel, actually go into blossom in late Winter. We had spent a lot of time with those trees, but had moved on to other kibbutz tasks in recent months. So, when Tu BiShvat came around and happened to be Shabbat (and so, not a work day), we just needed to see – were the Almond trees really blooming? We took a long walk out into the fields and were amazed to see a virtual sea of white and pink blossoms had appeared overnight. It was a sensory experience I will never forget!
On Tu BiShvat in the Diaspora, we are unlikely to have an experience that mirrors what is possible in the Land of Israel. However, there are so many things we can do to remind us of our connection to nature, to trees and to Israel. The custom of a Tu BiShvat seder goes back to the mystics of Tzfat, and employs the practice of intentional eating accompanied by blessings over the traditional “Seven Species of the Land of Israel,” as well as readings and reflections on trees. Good for any age, numerous examples can be found online. It is also a great time to connect to what’s happening in Israel through organizations such as the Jewish National Fund, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Neot Kedumim as well as (of course) our own Jewish Federation of Howard County.