“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

By: Anna Simon, Community Relations and Event Manager

Tu B’shevat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, is celebrated as “The New Year of the Trees” and is when the earliest blooming trees in Israel emerge from their winter sleep.

Reflecting back on when I was a child, I recall memories of eating figs, dates and starfruit at Hebrew School on Tu B’shevat. In my room, I proudly displayed a beautiful certificate acknowledging that my grandparents planted a tree in Israel in my honor. And, I read Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree.

In high school, I had the opportunity to dig a hole in the dirt and plant my very own sapling in Israel in the weeks following Tu’ B’shevat. After so many years, of receiving certificates from the Jewish National Fund, it was very powerful to finally be able to put my hands in the dirt and plant my own tree in Israel. It was the first time I had ever planted a tree and it instilled in me a much deeper desire to protect the earth and the trees.

By the time I got to college, I was immersed in the hot environmental topics of the day. I decorated my backpack with earth-loving-tree-friendly buttons. If I saw garbage on the sidewalk, I’d pick it up and put it in my bag to toss at a later time (I know, gross, right?). I was a fierce recycler. I actually hugged trees. I walked everywhere (ok, who didn’t walk everywhere while in college).  I read books by Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey and Rachel Carson and quoted John Muir.  By then, I had all but forgotten about Tu B’shevat. But, wasn’t it enough that I was trying to save the world and protect the trees?

When I became a parent, Tu B’shevat took on a very different meaning because I wanted to teach my son all about our “New Year of the Trees”. So, naturally, what did we do? We ate figs, dates and starfruit and talked about planting trees in Israel. But, we also took the time to talk about what we could do to help protect the earth…and, of course, we read The Giving Tree.

What is it about that story? It’s so simple, yet so powerful. As a child, it was just a lovely story about a tree who was friends with a little boy. As I got older, it became a story about something much bigger…the trees, the environment, the world. Every summer, as I packed up my bags to head to Herzl, I always had that bright green book in tow. I would sit in the grass, with my back against one of the massive trees at camp and read it to my campers. I lent it to other staff so they could read it to their own campers and we used it as a theme for Shabbat Sichot discussions on a regular basis. Last summer, the bright green book was back in Webster with me again and it will be in my bag when I return to camp this summer.

So, even though I didn’t technically celebrate Tu B’shevat every year growing up, I did it in my own way. My deep connection to the earth was inspired by digging my hands into the soil and planting my first tree in Israel. And, it was nurtured while spending summers at Herzl in the fresh air, among the trees. Maybe I actually have been celebrating Tu B’shevat on a regular basis.

Tu B’shevat begins at sunset on Tuesday, February 7. So, what are you going to do?

Why not try something new? Go outside and hug a tree. Host your own Tu B’shevat seder (check out Hazon’s resources including a family friendly Tu B’shvat Seder Haggadah). Make a list of your “Tu B’shevat Top Ten”: 10 things you can do every day to help protect the earth. Or check out this video in which Shel Silverstein narrates an animated version of The Giving Tree in 1973 and then take some time to think about what you can do to make a difference on this earth.

Shabbat Shalom. And, Happy New Year to all the trees.

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