Growing up the States, TU B’Shvat was never a special holiday for me. We learned about trees and the fruits of Israel, singing the phrase “a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey;” (Deuteronomy 8:8 ) but I don’t think I every truly understood the meaning of it all.
After making Aliyah, I was introduced to the tradition of the TU B’Shvat Seder (like the Pesach Seder but without the Matzah…) and Netiot – the planting of trees on the holiday. Israel is big on planting trees on Tu B’Shvat… just as the children’s song states – “Ani nata’ati etz, B’eretz Yisrael” (I planted a tree in the Land of Israel), yes, I have planted many trees in Israel over the years.
My family is not very big on the Tu B’shvat Seder, and neither is my husband’s family, therefore, this tradition, unfortunately, is not practiced in my home, hopefully, that will change one day.
It has been years since I went on a Tu B’shvat trip or planted a tree to mark this holiday. It has even been a while since I attended a traditional Tu B’Shvat Seder, with all the fruits and songs (it is truly a beautiful tradition), yet despite all this, I have grown to truly understand the meaning of this holiday and the promise God made to us in the verse from Deuteronomy.
Life in the Jordan Valley has introduced me to an aspect of Israeli life that I thought was a part of the past. I have come to learn about agriculture as I reside among farmers. I have learned about the connection between man, land and nature, the importance of rain, and the connection between Jewish life and the different seasons.
For instance, throughout the summer we watch at the date palms surrounding us become heavy with fruit weighing down their branches. Nets are draped over bunches of fruit to keep the birds from picking at the sweet fruit. At the end of the summer, just before Rosh HaShana, the dates are harvested. This is when we buy huge amounts of dates to store in our freezer so we can enjoy fresh dates throughout the year. Shortly after Rosh HaShana, the farmers are busy cutting down the branches to ship all over the country as the palm branches are used to build the Succah, and of course the Lulav, one of the 4 species of Succot is harvested as well.
The Jordan Valley in known worldwide for its fantastic Medjool dates. These dates are big, plump, juicy and extremely sweet. They are the best dates I have ever tasted in my life. I actually was not a “date-lover” till I moved here. Now, dates have become candy in my home, my children ask for them when they want something sweet. We eat them before a fast – this is what our Arab neighbors suggest since it is their tradition before the Ramadan fast. I put a walnut inside a date for an energy boost, and believe me – it works better than a cup of coffee!
The Jordan Valley dates are exported all over the world (and interestingly they were not banned like other products because they are just too good), they are known to be the best. I realized some time ago that these dates are a gift from God – the fulfillment of a promise:
”For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey;” Deuteronomy 8:7-8
כִּי ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ, מְבִיאֲךָ אֶל-אֶרֶץ טוֹבָה: אֶרֶץ, נַחֲלֵי מָיִם–עֲיָנֹת וּתְהֹמֹת, יֹצְאִים בַּבִּקְעָה וּבָהָר. אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה, וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן; אֶרֶץ-זֵית שֶׁמֶן, וּדְבָשׁ. דברים ח’: ז’-ח’