I hope everyone had a great New Year of the Trees! Several days ago, the Jewish environmental organization H’zon put up (and sent to their email list) a blog post defending their practice of incorrectly referring to the holiday as “Tu B’Shvat”. (h/t to commenter Joel for “H’zon”.)
A review of why this is incorrect: In Hebrew, a word may not begin with two shevas. (A sheva is the vowel that looks like a colon underneath the letter; depending on context, it is pronounced either not at all or like the English schwa.) Therefore, if one of the prefixes b-, k-, or l- is placed on a word beginning with a sheva, the prefix letter gets a chirik (the “ee” vowel, represented by a single dot under the letter) instead of a sheva. For example, the name of the month of Sh’vat (uniquely among all the Hebrew months) begins with a sheva, so when the prefix B- is attached to the month, you get Bishvat (or BiShvat or biShvat or Bi-Shvat or BeeShvat — however you want to write it).
To be clear, this is a Hebrew grammar issue; it is NOT a transliteration issue. The issue has nothing to do with the choice of which English characters are used to represent each Hebrew letter and vowel — the same issue would come up in vocalized Hebrew, in which בִּשְׁבָט is correct and בְּשְׁבָט is incorrect. (In unvocalized Hebrew, of course, the difference is invisible.) As a parallel, suppose your organization sent out an email (in English) around the new year (the tree one or any other one) saying “Shanah tov!” If someone then responded “Actually, it should be ‘shanah tovah’, since ‘shanah’ is a feminine noun, so it should take a feminine adjective”, you wouldn’t reply “Hey, you’re entitled to your preference, but there’s no right or wrong way to transliterate Hebrew into English characters.” It should be obvious that such a reply would be a non sequitur, since noun-adjective agreement is obviously unrelated to transliteration – nothing would be different if the email had been in Hebrew and said שנה טוב, and then was corrected to שנה טובה.
In short, anyone who says this is a transliteration dispute either doesn’t understand the issue (and should defer to those who do) or is intentionally obfuscating.
With that in mind, here’s the story so far:
Around this time last year, I wrote a blog post, “The War on Tu Bishvat”, enumerating and responding to the top five rationalizations for “B’Shvat”/”B’Shevat”, and explaining why they are without merit, followed by a second blog post, “Tu Bishvat Halls of Fame and Shame”, which laid out who was on each side of the issue. I then had some unfortunate online interactions with H’zon, during which one of their staffers acted unprofessionally, and I wrote it up in a third blog post, “Hazon sinks deeper into the hall of shame”.
If you haven’t read those three blog posts (or even if you have), read them now before proceeding further. More »
I know what you’re thinking – you want to refer to the 4 worlds in your Tu Bishvat seder but they’re confusing and…oh, if there were only a song that allowed you to sing through the four worlds (like we sing the order of the Passover seder) so folks could remember the order of the Tu Bishvat seder.
Hazon has created an amazing resource for Tu Bi’Shvat where anyone can register for free and download a haggadah or customize your own, a leader’s guide and even a song book! It’s an incredible source for information and resources for running your own Tu Bi’Shvat seder or supplementing one which has become a tradition. Definitely head over and check it out because it really is something special. It’s all digital and it’s all free!
For those in NYC, you can join Hazon and Romemu for a Tu Bi’Shvat Seder and see this amazing resource in action!
Wednesday, January 19th
JCC Manhattan – 76th and Amsterdam
Doors open at 7:00pm, Seder begins promptly at 7:30pm
Celebrate Tu B’Shvat with the Hazon and Romemu communities as we experience the “new year for the trees” with song, spirit, and supper. This seder will be a kosher dairy meal including seasonal, gluten-free and vegan options.
Green Ticket- $30 (bring your own plate, bowl, cup and cutlery)
General Ticket- $36 (plate, bowl, cup and cutlery provided)
Each week, over Shabbat dinner we engage in an experiment in mindfulness. Moving through the Shabbat table liturgy we are forced to think about two things: how does our wine and challah taste and where did then come from?
During the weekday, I eat akin to Homer Simpson, eating too much and beginning each bite before finishing the one before. On Shabbat, we are forced to take a step back. First we remember through blessing the wine and challah that food is a gift, and it is from God. (Of course it’s a law to bless our food on the weekdays as well even the most pious Jew would argue that there is something different and special about Shabbat blessings.)
In addition, the Shabbat liturgy forces us to follow an order. I’ll admit that I’m a fork loader. The more I can taste in a given bite the happier I am. But on Shabbat, we don’t mix. First we taste the wine. Then we taste the challah. Only then do we get to eat everything else. Shabbat is our chance to pause, taste our foods, and enjoy the difference in taste at each step in our ritual.
For this reason, it couldn’t be any more perfect that Tu Bishvat, the holiday where we usually celebrate the unique tastes of nature and look closely at how we relate to God’s world, falls on Shabbat. It is during this holiday that we are encouraged to go above and beyond what we do every week, to be mindful of our food in all aspects. This coming Saturday, at Congregation Beth Elohim when the clocks strike 6PM we will combine the best of Shabbat and Tu Bishvat.
Taste of Tu Bishvat will be an experiment in mindfulness. Like the Shabbat table liturgy we’ll take the time to really taste our food (through meditative practice) and to study and discuss where our food comes from by looking at issues of sustainability and eating. The night will end with a havdallah service as we say goodbye to Shabbat and Tu Bishvat. Cost is $18. To register click here.
Early this week on Twitter, David A. M. Wilensky asked why people get so excited about Tu BiShvat. Two rather mundane but honest answers are that for those who are into Kabbalah (and I am decidedly not one of those), it’s a moment in the spotlight for their favorite elements of Judaism, and for those who are Jewish educators (and I am decidedly one of those), it’s a holiday that fills the dead time between Hanukkah and Purim.
Personally, I could take or leave the holiday. I like fruit as much as the next guy. Strike that. I like fruit more than the next guy (as anyone familiar with my biography and tendency towards bad puns can attest). But my disinterest in Kabbalah and unease with the ways the holiday has been claimed by everyone from Zionists to Ecologists make it hard for me to get a firm grounding on what the holiday might mean to me.
However, we all know I like food. And when Tu BiShvat falls on Shabbat, as it does this year, I love the chance to build a Shabbat menu around fruit. Back in 5763 (aka 2003), when I was in my first year as a full-time Jewish educator, Tu BiShvat also fell on Shabbat. The shul where I worked had a very successful monthly community Shabbat dinner event. I asked if I could take the lead for the month when the dinner would coincide with the so-called birthday of the trees.
I was met with some skepticism. “Our congregation loves the dinners as they are. We don’t want any programming,” I was told. “Don’t worry,” I assured them. “I’m talking about menu and decorations. You won’t even know that you’re taking part in a Tu BiShvat seder.”
Having made the bold claim, and not entirely sure how I was going to back it up, I got to work with my partner-in-crime, Robin Kahn, then the synagogue’s family educator. We bought up every mylar tree that iParty had for sale. We made up vertical seder plates with four levels, representing the four Kabbalistic spheres the seder traditionally mentions. One set of plates was filled with the expected fruits (the top level being left empty, natch). The other filled with dips like hummus and olive tapenade, because we’re classy like that — and because it gave us a second set of surfaces on the table to which we could affix labels. A third set of four bottles of soda or juice (representing the color spectrum from red to white) gave us our third canvas. The labels we places on each level, each bottle presented all the information of the seder in small, non-threatening and non-invasive chunks. (And lest you think I forgot about the שבעת המנים, the seven types of grains and fruit grown in Israel linked to the holiday, we had crackers made of barely & wheat to complement the rest of the fruits & dips on the seder plates.)
Our crowning achievement was the placemats we created. They were double-sided, with one side aimed at kids featuring a word search, a Cosmo-style “What Kind of Tree Are You?” quiz, and more. The adult side included a timeline detailing the evolution of the holiday from the time of the Second Temple though today, some text about the mitzvah of baal tashchit, and the words to the song השקדיה פורחת. No one had to look at the placemats if they weren’t interested, but to load the deck in our favor, we set the table with transparent plates and cutlery.
The dinner was a success, both from a culinary standpoint and an educational/programmatic one. Today I printed out a new set of those placemats to use this Shabbat. It’s weird to look back at something from so early in my career — I admit to going through and changing the way I spelled the name of the holiday (thanks, BZ!) (although now I noticed I missed a spot). But I’m still proud of the work Robin and I did. And today it serves as a reminder to me that Jewish education can touch even those most resistant to it if we approach it with a little creativity and a lot of office supplies.
Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Yoni Stadlin, founding director of Eden Village Camp. Many of you celebrated at this summer’s Bereishit Festival or you may have justheard of them through the grapevine. As we look toward our next Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, we invite you to hear Stadlin’s inspiring story. Oh yeah, and thanks to three huge Jewish organizations for investing millions in such an awesome project!
My name is Yoni Stadlin, and I am a redwood-tree-sitter. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, can grow up to 300 feet tall, and can live for two thousand years! I lived aloft in redwood trees for two months of my life. Tree-sitters are people who live up in trees that are slated to be cut down, on the wager that no one would cut down a tree with a person in it.
Tree-sitting has been effective in protecting huge groves and helping change many policies, but many of these ancient beauties have been logged nonetheless. Ninety-five percent of coastal redwoods in the northwest U.S. have been logged for making things like decks, playgrounds and tools. The practice of clear-cutting – leaving no trees standing – has turned huge, lush, vibrant and ancient redwood forests into eroded wastelands, destroying habitats, contaminating water, and massively increasing our species’ footprint on this planet.
Imagine, people in trees! One person, name Julia Butterfly, lived aloft for two and a half years on a suspended platform in a tree named Luna. Imagine where you were two and a half years ago, and imagine being held by a gigantic tree from then until now. Imagine seeing no doors, not one building, road or florescent light, and your feet never touching the ground. This is what I did for two months, and I loved it. More »