It is January, and the orchids on my patio are celebrating the arrival of Spring. After a few cooler nights here in St Petersburg, Florida, they are sending out a plethora of new shoots that will bear bouquets of purple, white and yellow flowers to welcome the new season.
When I lived in Upstate New York, the month of January heralded deep winter, with snow gracing the boughs of the stately pines and outlining the ghostly bare branches of the deciduous trees. Spring was only a distant dream.
For my family in Australia, January is full summer, with beach days, sunshine, and gardens filled with colorful blooming flowers and eucalyptus trees. After years of drought and devastating wildfires in New South Wales, the summer last year was wetter than normal, and they are hoping for good rainfall this year.
In California, after several years of drought and water restrictions, this January the fear of wildfires is receding as “atmospheric rivers” deliver a deluge of welcome rain and snow. My son in Berkeley sends me videos of falling rain and rushing streams with smiley face emojis in the message.
In Israel, January coincides with the Hebrew lunar calendar month of Shevat. It is the middle of the rainy season, when the parched earth, blessed with moisture, comes to life with cyclamen peeking out from crevasses in the rocks and the fragrance of the almond tree blossoms filling the air. It is a beautiful time to celebrate the biblical New Year of the Trees. The actual date of the 15th day of Shevat was chosen over two thousand years ago, and the holiday was called “Tu B’Shevat.” For centuries it has been the Jewish Arbor Day.
As Jews, we live in many places in the world and celebrate everything that nature has to offer us in our own communities. But no matter where we live, observing Tu B’Shevat is a wonderful way to renew our ties to the Land of Israel and to celebrate the cycles of nature and the seasons that occur in our historic homeland.
This year the festival falls on January 17th. Following tradition, we will celebrate by feasting on the fruit born by trees, particularly fruits mentioned in the scriptures, such as grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Eating “Boxer,” a long, flat curved brown carob-seed pod, has long been an integral part of Tu B’Shevat. Some communities even organize a Tu B’Shevat festive seder.
The festival of Tu B’Shevat is one of the many ways that the deep, intimate Jewish connection to the Land of Israel has been maintained over the centuries.
Personally, I find tremendous satisfaction in strengthening my bone-deep bonds to the Jewish people and our heritage by volunteering for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. For over one hundred years Hadassah has been a tree of life, blossoming as our members have joyously helped to build and support the Jewish homeland, Israel. The fruit of our labors, including our two Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem which comprise the Hadassah Medical Organization, demonstrate the many ways in which we are successfully healing our world.
Yearly celebrations of Tu B’Shevat remind us that as Jews, the land promised to us in the bible is part of our religion, our heritage, our tradition, our hearts and our souls.