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Tu B’Shvat—the Jewish Earth Day

Before there was Earth Day, there was Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees.

Before there was Earth Day, there was Tu B’Shvat—the New Year for Trees, a day to remind us that the earth is a precious gift. The holiday, which this year begins at sundown on January 19, was originally the time when Jews who lived in ancient Israel gave a tenth of the new fruits they raised to the Levites and priests who cared for the Temple in Jerusalem as a way of thanking God for the earth’s fertility.

A few hundred years later, the Kabbalists developed a Tu B’Shvat Seder, modeled on the Passover Seder, which celebrated the fruits of the land and their potential for holiness. Later, the holiday resonated with Jewish pioneers who came to Palestine in the 19th and early 20 centuries. They worked to bring the land back to life, reclaiming deserts, swamps and neglected fields by planting innumerable trees.

Today, Tu B’Shvat is the day when Israelis plant saplings throughout the land, a custom that many have also embraced in communities here in America. The holiday has also become a day for Jews to focus on environmental awareness and a connection to the earth.

If you are In search of ideas and resources to celebrate Tu B’Shvat with your family or friends, check out the following:

  • Jewish educator/performer Shira Kline, who gets kids (and even parents) dancing and singing in the aisles with energetic programs presented with her band ShirLaLa, has put together kid-friendly resources about the holiday on her holiday blog. She offers tips and guidance for doing a Tu B’Shvat Seder, holiday coloring pages; a holiday story, and even directions for making and decorating a Tu B’Shvat birthday cake. Anyone who places an order for ShirLaLa’s new CD of eco-music for kids—Earth Worm Disco—receives a free packet of Butterfly Garden Mix seeds.

  • Hazon, America’s largest Jewish environmental group, is offering a Tu B’Shvat Seder and sourcebook, newly updated for 2011, that is available in PDF-format making it easy to print in multiples for a family or a larger gathering. This beautifully conceived and illustrated piece comes complete with teachings and explanations that weave together mysticism and environmentalism with an appreciation for the blessings of creation. Other materials are also featured on the Hazon site, including leader’s guide, songs, and videos teaching you how to create a memorable Tu B’Shvat Seder. HAZON is even sponsoring a contest for the most creative use of its materials.


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