MATTIE ETTENHEIM (Former Education Associate, Eldridge Street Synagogue): Tu B’Shevat is a holiday celebrating trees. Essentially, it's the New Year of the trees.
(Speaking to children): Why is Tu b'Shevat in winter? That's a great question. Let's answer that. Because in Israel that's when the youngest plants are starting to come alive.
The Tu B’Shevat seder, it focuses on eating particular type of fruits and nuts at particular times. There's four parts, and each part represents a different season. And all the fruits that we eat are fruits that are grown in the soil in Israel.
(Speaking to children): So the outside is soft, and the inside is hard. What do we think that represents for spring?
The Tu B’Shevat seder is kind of similar to the Passover seder. The word “seder” means “order,” so just like the Passover seder you do certain things in a certain order, and all that has symbols.
Tu B’Shevat seder has a whole spiritual aspect of it where a lot of it is looking inward at yourself, and it's looking about being careful of judging others, and you relate that to food, so a tough exterior but a very soft inside. One of the main connections between Tu B’Shevat and children is that it's fun. There is a lot to do—recycled instruments, and you plant a pot, and you look at worms in a compost bin, you come eat fruits and nuts, and it's very interactive.
A big part of the Tu B’Shevat festival and day is planting trees. There's millions of trees that are planted in Israel every year, and I know a big thing that we do in America is you can send money or send seedlings to Israel and plant trees.
You’re eating all these fruits and all these nuts, and you’re celebrating in a spectacular place. It kind of reminds you of all the great things and little pleasures in life that may be hidden under a very tough, disastrous day in winter.
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This New Year celebration of trees, observed on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat, has grown in popularity because of its connection to the environment. We spoke last year with Eldridge Street Synagogue educator Mattie Ettenheim at a Tu B’Shevat observance.