At the end of January, Jews across the world will celebrate Tu Bishvat, a Jewish holiday known as the “New Year for the Trees.” The name of the holiday itself is more actually a numerical value referring to the date of the holiday in the Jewish calendar — in the system of Hebrew letters correlating to numbers, “Tu” means “fifteenth” and “Shvat” is a name of the Hebrew month itself. “Tu Bishvat” literally means “Fifteenth of Shvat,” similar to how we in America refer to the holiday “Fourth of July” by its date in the Western calendar.
Jewish tradition teaches us that a year consists of different cycles, and that each cycle within the year has its own “New Years” type celebration. Again to relate this to our own experience in America, we have calendar years, fiscal years, academic years, etc. In the Mishnah (collection of early Rabbinic wisdom and legal material dating to in the 1st and 2nd centuries in the Land of Israel) we are taught that the Jewish year is punctuated by four New Years: political New Years for counting the reign of sovereigns, agricultural new year for domesticated animals, New Years for trees and vegetation (Tu Bishvat), and the new year for our sacred calendar (Rosh Hashanah).
In ancient times, Tu Bishvat was an important moment in the agricultural cycle where the fruits of the land of Israel were harvested and rendered amenable for consumption. Our ancient ancestors would bring the first fruits of the land to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, a gathering of society that included many elaborate rituals including dance, music, and poetry expressing gratitude to the divine for the bounty of the Land. Today many Jewish communities mark Tu Bishvat with a communal meal of fruits that has been organized a ritual meal. Inspired by the order of the Passover seder, mystics in the Land of Israel from the 16th century created the Tu Bishvat seder so that we may celebrate the multifaceted ways in which trees contribute to our health, happiness, and well being.
This year our Solel community will be celebrating Tu Bishvat with a multi-generational program on the evening of Tuesday January 30. We will be gathering for Tu Bishvat seder including songs, dances, and yummy snacks that express our gratitude and commitment to nature while celebrating the sacred connection between human and trees at home and in the Land of Israel. This event will be sponsored by both Lev Solel as well as the committee celebrating the 60th anniversary of Congregation Solel. The participation and input from Lev Solel and members of the 60th anniversary committee is beautiful because it underscores an important metaphor regarding plants and trees: through education and celebrations of Jewish tradition, we are able to plant the seeds of tomorrow today.
Another special part of this Tu Bishvat celebration will be the community call for submissions to our “Solel at 60 Time Capsule.” So much of our celebration of Solel’s 60 year past has been about looking forward, imagining what Jewish life in our amazing community will be like 60 years from now. What better way to encapsulate this message than to take stock of who we are as a community and .
In closing, we hope that all members of our community will come to our Tu Bishvat seder; join us as we sing, dance, and nosh in service of our commitment and connection to the natural world. Please also consider what you and your loved ones will contribute to our “Solel at 60 Time Capsule.” Whether it be a poem or press clipping, item of Judaica or Americana, or simply a heartfelt message to the next generation of Solelites- please help make our Time Capsule project a success and plant the seeds of tomorrow, today!
Cantor Jay O’Brien