Yesterday, we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the fifteenth day of the month of Shvat, the New Year of the Trees. Usually Tu B’Shvat is the day when the Israeli youth groups go out on field trips and plant trees. This year is a Shmita (Sabbatical) year where planting in the Land of Israel is forbidden so the children did not plant trees. However, the youth groups still found a way to plan Tu B’Shvat trips so that the children would have an opportunity to build a deeper connection to the Land of Israel as well as have an excuse to skip a day of school.
I was busy conducting a Tu B’Shvat seder, a tradition that was initiated by the Kabbalists in Tsfat in the 16th century, for the elderly residents of Jerusalem. We ate the seven species of the Land of Israel and learned about their significance in the Tanach, Midrash and Talmud. We sampled fifteen types of fruits and nuts, drank grape and pomegranate juices and a guitarist led us in songs connected with nature. While driving home I listened to the top of the hour news on the radio and was surprised that some of the news stories related to Tu B’Shvat.
One piece of news was that the rabbis warned the nursery and kindergarten teachers to be careful while serving dried fruit as it is a choking hazard for kids under the age of five.
In other news the Bayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party was caught giving out dried fruit violating the election laws which state that campaigning “cannot be connected to giving out food and drink.”
When I had a chance to take a look at the Hebrew newspaper, Yediot Achronot I was surprised to see President Rubi Rivlin conducting the first Tu B’Shvat seder ever to take place at the president’s residence.
This year there were some interesting innovations that were introduced:
Ben & Jerry’s is producing a limited edition special flavor of ice cream in honor of Tu B’Shvat called To B Nuts made up of vanilla ice cream, different types of nuts and chocolate.
Community centers all over Israel have arranged activities and trips with a focus on appreciating nature, ecology and recycling as part of a series of environmental activities that have been taking place throughout the Shmita year.
It is clear that Tu B’Shvat is still very much celebrated even during a Shmita year.
The fact that it is a Shmita year actually makes us more agriculturally aware all year long as opposed to on just one day. On a daily basis, we are investigating how, where and when all of our fruits and vegetables were grown before we buy them. After we eat fruits and vegetables that have Kdushat Shviit (holiness of the seventh year), we must be careful how we dispose of the parts that are wasted as it would not be respectful to put them in the regular garbage can.
The Shmita year in some ways actually feels like a year long Tu B’Shvat. Now if we could only get Ben & Jerry’s to keep the Tu B’Shvat flavor all year long!