Community News

Tu b’Shevat: It is Not Just About Trees

Did you know that this Thursday is Tu b’Shevat? If I hadn’t been reminded by my boss, I never would have remembered, much less been prompted to look up the greater significance of this “New Year of the Trees.”

I mean, don’t get me wrong—I like trees, but my awareness of this Jewish holiday has become rather fuzzy. I remember wearing a paper tree around my head for a religious school play as a kid. I remember planting trees with my Sunday school students just a few years ago. And I vaguely recall that Tu b’Shevat somehow has to do with taxes.

So I did some research.  Tu b’Shevat occurs on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat—this year, January 16th. In biblical times, people were not permitted to eat fruit from trees during the first three years after they were planted, and the years were calculated each Tu b’Shevat. In the fourth year, the fruit was to be brought to Jerusalem as a tithe, or tax. Some modern Jewish celebrations include a seder, in which specific fruits are given symbolic meanings and consumed along with wine. And many people, particularly those in Israel, commemorate Tu b’Shevat to promote environmental awareness and reconnect with nature.

I work in a cubicle all day, and often rest my eyes by staring outside, where a large office building with mirrored windows blocks my view from anything interesting. But what I do see is a row of palm trees. As far as trees are concerned, they’re really not much to look at. They’re tall and gangly and not at all lush.

But they are very much alive and they are amazingly resilient. I’ve seen them battered by Santa Anas and powerful rain. I’ve watched their tousled bed-head fronds go flat and droopy in the midst of inclement weather and yet they never fall down. Old leaves make way for new shoots and within a few days, they look stronger and greener than ever.

Looking back on our history, the Jewish people have shown similar resilience countless times. For example, we were once slaves in Egypt—and we persevered. And though we lost so many during the Holocaust, as a people, we didn’t give up hope—or faith.

Of course we should honor trees for everything they give us that impacts our lives—food, shelter, paper and even medicine. But the way I see it, Tu b’Shevat is less about honoring trees and more about honoring the Jewish spirit.

So when I bite into my apple at lunch on Thursday, I won’t be thinking about how hungry I am, or how the skin is stuck between my teeth. I’m going to take a moment to look outside at those thriving palm trees, as I reflect on Tu b’Shevat and how truly amazing it is to be a part of the Jewish community.