Tu B’Shevat & The Love of Israel – Jewish Life at Beber
Tu B’Shevat (the New Year of the Trees) is this month and so it is very fitting that we are focusing on one of our core Jewish values (Find out more about our Jewish values here) of Ahavat Yisrael, “Love of Israel.” In Israel, Tu B’Shevat celebrates the beginning of Spring and the development of the landscape of Israel through the planting of trees. At Beber Camp, we make developing a “love of Israel” a priority for our campers and staff. Each summer, we bring Israeli staff to camp who help us connect to Israel. Israeli Dancing is a weekly activity on Shabbat. Once each session we celebrate “Israel Day,” a day focused on Israel, where we integrate learning about, and connecting, Israel to our daily activities. And, more than the programs and activities we develop to teach about Israel, the relationships our campers and staff develop with our Israeli staff is really at the heart of what helps them develop Ahavat Yisrael.
In addition, our PIO (Pioneer) program, for entering 11th graders, includes a three-week trip to Israel where they spend time touring, learning about, and experiencing life in Israel. (This year our CITs will also be going to Israel because they did not get to go as PIOs last year).
Israel is the Jewish people’s homeland and we strive to create a connection to Israel for our campers so that they feel it is truly their homeland.
More About Tu B’Shevat
The holiday is named after its date. In Hebrew, the word “Tu” is made up of two Hebrew letters, the Tet and Vuv, which is the numerical value of 15. Shevat is the name of the month. “B’” means “in” or “of.” So, Tu B’Shevat is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. This year, Tu B’Shevat begins Sunday evening, January 16.
Tu B’Shevat is the New Year of the Trees! Why would we need a day just for the trees? In Biblical times, it was really important to have a cycle for the trees because, in the Torah, there were rules for bringing tithes (a tenth of one’s produce or income) to the Temple, as well as other biblical laws regarding fruit and trees. Fruit from one year could not be used as a tithe for the next year, so they had to know when a crop year began and ended. It was also important to keep track of how old trees were so that they could determine when the fruit was ready for bringing to the Temple and for eating. The original history and meaning of Tu B’Shevat is really fascinating; you can learn more here.
In Israel, this is the time of year when most of the rainfall in Israel has happened and the soil is fertile for planting trees, it’s an indication that Spring is here (though, it may not seem like that for many of us). Tu B’Shevat is really the beginning of Spring in Israel and that means summer is just around the corner, which means camp will be here before we know it!
In the 16th century, the mystics (kabbalists) of Tzfat (a holy and beautiful city in the north of Israel), found spiritual significance in Tu B’Shevat. They found spirituality in the seeds and fruits of trees and developed a Tu B’Shevat seder to help us tap into that spirituality. It became traditional to eat certain foods that are grown in Israel (such as almonds, olives, dates, figs, apricots, wheat, barley, and pomegranates). You can learn more about Tu B’Shevat seders here.
In modern Israel, Tu B’Shevat became important for the development of the landscape of Israel. Zionist pioneers developed the tradition of planting trees in honor of the holiday and this has continued through today. “Since 1900 roughly 250,000,000 trees have been planted across Israel and it is the only county in the world that ended the 20th century with more trees than it had in 1900. In 1948 roughly 2% of Israel was covered in trees and this has now grown to around 8.5%.” (source). Planting trees has changed the landscape of Israel and has helped it become a lush, prosperous land, where once it was mostly desert. It is traditional on Tu B’Shevat to plant a tree in Israel. It’s also something Jews do all year long as a meaningful way to honor or memorialize friends and relatives or to celebrate a milestone in someone’s life, like a Bar/Bat Bat Mitzvah, birthday, or wedding.
Finally, environmentalists have celebrated Tu B’Shevat as the Jewish “Earth Day,” a time for promoting learning about our responsibility to the earth we live on and must care for. Caring for our land is an important way of caring for ourselves and those who come after us.
So, what can you do to honor Tu B’Shevat? You can…
- Plant a tree in Israel in honor of Tu B’Shevat or in honor or memory of someone you love.
- Have a Tu B’Shevat Seder with your family. It’s easy to do and this resource will help you plan it!
- Watch this very short video about Tu B’Shevat.
- Give Tzedakah, contribute to any organization that works to help the environment.
- Take a nature walk and appreciate the environment around you. Spend some time among trees.
- Send us a drawing or picture of your favorite tree or outdoor space at camp. Tell us why it’s special to you. Maybe we’ll share that in a future publication or post.
At Beber Camp, we know firsthand how important our environment is. We enjoy the beauty of our land and trees and lake every day during camp and we strive to take care of it, so that our current and future campers will always be able to enjoy it. Tu B’Shevat reminds us of just how important our environment, and in particular, our trees, are. Tu B’Shevat also reminds us that Spring is coming, and soon we will all be together amidst the trees at Beber Camp!