Tu B’shevat or the 15th of the month of Shevat will fall this year on the eve of Sunday January 16th. Originally mentioned as one of the four New Years, Tu B’shevat was used to denote the beginning of the new year for fruit trees in order to calculate the tithe to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the 16th century Kabbalists created a new ritual, the Tu B’shevat Seder or Feast of Fruits to celebrate nature and its bounty. While still winter here in Rochester, in the land of Israel at Tu B’shevat we begin to see the hints of budding fruits on the trees. In recent years Tu B’shevat has become a sort of Jewish Earth day, considered a festival of nature, full of wonder, joy, and thankfulness for creation in anticipation of the renewal of the natural world. It is seen as an appropriate holiday to educate Jews about our tradition’s advocacy of responsible stewardship of creation and a celebration of nature.
Trees have always been a special symbol for Jews. Our biblical text is replete with both literal and metaphorical references. The Torah itself is referred to as Etz Chaim or the Tree of Life. Bal Taschit, which is a commonly understood as a commandment not to waste has its roots in Deuteronomy as a prohibition against destroying fruit trees in a time of war. The story of Honi the circle maker encourages us to consider the parable where an old man planting a carob tree that will not bear fruit for 70 years says.
“As my forebears planted for me, so do I plant for my children.”
– Babylonian Talmud, Ta‘anit 23a
What’s so great about trees?
· Trees can be great big carbon sinks. They absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen storing carbon during their lifecycle.
· Just 3 trees properly placed around a house can save up to 30% of energy use- Well positioned trees on your property, can shade your house reducing energy consumption on cooling. Shading of your air conditioning unit in the summer can increase its efficiency. (U.S. Forest Service Center for Urban Forest Research)
· Tree lined streets in urban areas can reduce heat-island effects lowering temperatures up to 6-10deg compared to streets without trees (U.S. Forest Service Center for Urban Forest Research).
· They also filter our air and water, provide structure to our soil and provide vital habitat, natural beauty and recreational opportunities.
We Jews are planters- A century ago the Zionist movement mobilized and inspired thousands to undertake reforesting the Land of Israel, and today many still plant trees to mark special events. BUT, sustainable reforesting means that the right trees must be planted in the right place and in the right balance and with correct ongoing care. (For more information on complexity of tree planting efforts in Israel see https://www.natureisrael.org/Blog/2020-Tu-B-Shvat-Thoughts )
Some options for sustainable tree planting:
· Ecosia- is a Berlin-based search engine that uses the ad revenue generated from your searches to plant trees where they are needed most. (They are pretty well vetted: a certified B-Corp, pledged to be CO2-negative, to support full financial transparency and protect the privacy of its users.) Find out more about Ecosia and how to set it as your default browser at www.ecosia.org
· JTree- is a collaborative campaign by a variety of Jewish organizations from all walks of life that share a commitment to addressing climate change. Jtree partners with the National Forest Foundation to plant trees, protect forests, and repairing the damage already done to them. For more information go to https://hazon.org/commit-to-change/jtree/
· Now is not a great time to plant trees in the Rochester Area (Late August through September is best) but you can find information on timing and types of trees to plant through Cornell Cooperative Extension here
But planting trees is not all that we need and is should not replace advocating for policy change and rethinking our lifestyle and how we consume. We need to pursue all these and more to leave a better world for our children.
Rochester Area Interfaith Climate Actions has more resources and ideas on actions that you can at www.RAICA.net
So, as we push along through this pandemic and are reminded to properly wash our hands by singing “happy birthday” three times for proper technique, let’s dedicate one to the trees.
Take a moment to appreciate nature around you. Perhaps Winterfest might be an option? If not just take some time to be aware of the nature that enriches our lives and sustains us. Hey, you can even get in a COVID friendly tree hug, you might be surprised how good it feels. (That is the message Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority is spreading on social media to try to help people overcome the sense of detachment that coronavirus social-distancing rules can bring.