Tu B’shvat is an annual Jewish festival that is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Shvat. This year, this falls on the 28th January. A different name for the festival is Rosh haShana la’Ilanot, or the new year of the trees. For us at UJS, this name captures the beauty of Tu B’shvat, as we welcome spring, and the Earth begins to regenerate. As such, this festival has become seeped in messages of tikkun olam, it is a time to consider at greater length how we care for our environment, ensure the cleanliness and liveability of our shared, communal spaces, and protect our world for the generations to come. Traditions surrounding the festival are diverse, and Jews around the world celebrate it in different ways. To find out just some of the ways which Jewish students in the UK celebrate Tu B’shvat, take a read of the testimonials below!
Jodie Franks, 3rd Year, Leeds J-Soc
Tu Bishvat is the celebration of the beginning of the new year for trees, in particular fruit trees. One reason given as to why the 15th day of the month of Shvat was chosen as the new year for trees is because four months have passed since the rainy season in Israel, and so all water soaked up into the soil from the previous year has been used up. It may seem odd to us, in chilly England, to celebrate a festival so intertwined with the cycle of nature in Israel. For me, Tu Bishvat fits into the wider context of the Israeli agricultural year, around which so many of our festivals are centred. Celebrating Tu Bishvat so far from Israel is an expression of hope and desire to go to Israel and celebrate the festivals there, where they make more sense! But for now, I am content in eating lots of fruit on Tu Bishvat and recalling the importance of recognising the beauty of nature, and our job to protect it. One of my favourite stories from the Talmud is about Choni Hamagel, Choni the circle maker. Choni saw an old man planting a carob tree, which would not flower for 70 years. When he asked the old man why he was planting the tree, as he himself would not live to see the tree flower, the man answered “I am planting the tree not for myself, but for my grandchildren.” We must celebrate Tu Bishvat and appreciate the world around us, and nurture it for the future.
Stav Salpeter, 2nd Year, Edinburgh J-Soc
As children we used to plant seedlings on this day, and whether in the grey rain of the Jezreel Valley or the snow storms of Trondheim, it was always magical to have an active role in the rejuvenation of nature, hoping for spring in the midst of winter.
Until this year I didn’t realise how much I missed planting little saplings for the sake of it, with soil under our nails. This year, we were not faced with that little button on flight bookings asking us whether we wanted trees to be planted to offset our travel’s emissions. Instead, we planted little cacti and succulents on our window-sills to remember the life beyond the glass.
Tu B'shvat is not meant for sweeping solutions, but for individually taking note of the immediate environment around us. Especially in these times of quarantine and isolation, this seems to be a lovely opportunity to appreciate the small miracles surrounding us.
The holiday gives us the opportunity to simply bless a tree in our vicinity or eat a fruit we haven't noticed yet this year, savouring its taste. The beautiful thing about Tu B'shvat is that we're asked to take a step further than 'doing no harm' to the environment, and actively appreciate the beauty of the nature surrounding us.
Jael Sermoneta, 2nd Year, Nottingham J-Soc
The word ‘Tu Bishvat’ represents the day in which this Jewish holiday takes place: the 15th of Shevat. It is indicated by the Sages of the Mishnah that it is similar to the ‘new year of trees’ as, according to them, the sprout of trees begins on the land of Israel. There is no doubt that this holiday is strongly connected to the land of Israel. If human life is considered ‘sacred’, the tree is the symbol of life for agriculture. Thus, by planting trees, the Jewish spirit of the land of Israel is strengthened with the practice of agriculture and tikkun olam. In the Torah, it is said that humanity is ‘the tree of the field’, demonstrating the importance of the latter to the life of humans. In fact, trees guarantee a healthy life: they produce oxygen, they give us fruits to eat and wood to warm us in the winter. The Talmud teaches us that if you are doing the Mitzvah of planting a tree and you get told that the Mashiach is coming, you should first complete the task of planting it and then you should go and welcome him as, if you interrupt it, the Mashiach will not arrive. This festival is extremely important for Jewish people as it allows us to understand the importance of the bond between life and nature and how much we gain from it.