Tu B'Shvat the Holiday of Trees


Tu B'Shvat the Holiday of Trees


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What is January without Tu B'Shevat?

By Ted Roberts

Tu B'Shevat, Tu B'Shevat
You ain't in the Chumash
Or the Tanach
But I like you a lot
Tu B'Shevat, Tu B'Shevat.

January is not a Jewish month. The only thing Jewish about January is maybe Tu B'Shevat - a minor league event compared to say - Awesome Yom Kippur. Tu B'Shevat is a holiday like an onion slice is an entree at your Shabbat supper. I don't even know how Tubee (as my good friend, Herb, calls it) made holiday status.

The other day after services I asked my Rabbi. "Rabbi," I said, "why do we observe Tu B'Shevat?"

"We do?" he declared.

"Sure, Rabbi, Tu B'Shevat is usually early February, you know."

"Oh yeah," he said. "Uh, Tubee what? How do you spell it?"

Our difficulty proved to be a simple communication problem. I was working on a large mouthful of lox and bagel and he simply couldn't understand me. That's what he said. Once I described it with a mouth dedicated to speech and cleared of lox and bagel he knew all about it. It's the fifteenth day of Shvat and it's sort of a celebration of trees. A New Year celebration for trees, as it's described in the Jewish encyclopedia.

And even though it doesn't rank up there with Rosh Hashanah or Chanukah or even your nephew, Danny's, bar mitzvah, I'm sort of fond of Tu B'Shevat. There's not a lot of rules - there's not even the obligatory food item. It's a mix and match holiday. You like bean and barley soup? Have a bowl for breakfast on the morning of Tubee. You like to dip a nice slice of buttered rye in your soup? Fine. Anything goes on Tubee.

Ceremonially, tree planting is the traditional thing to do. The kids love it. In fact, you can begin your Tubee ceremony in October by collecting acorns.

"Why are we putting acorns in that bag?" says little Ezra, my grandson.

"I'm getting ready for Tu B'Shevat."

Here, Ezra does a great imitation of my rabbi. "Tubee what?" This is your cue to give him the standard explanation, plus a treatise on the wonders of the Creator's universe - how a 5-gram acorn will turn into a 50-ton Oak with the blessings of rain and earth and time.

Then tell him you're gathering these seeds to plant on the big day in late January. And when it rolls around, you and Ezra, armed with a hand digger, find a sunny spot in the backyard and plant your acorns. Remember that nature extravagantly provides the mama Salmon with 100,000 eggs so she'll have five or six kids to gladden her old age. Its the same with oak trees. So, plant a bunch of acorns. Maybe two or three will sprout in Spring.

If you've properly educated Ezra, he'll sit by the den window and watch for the seedlings like poverty-stricken writers wait for the mailman - with the check from the New Yorker.

Then one day in Spring, when you least expect it, a few green shoots will come up to tentatively explore their new world. Go get Ezra. I promise you his eyes will pop wider than the time you uncrated his new video game.

After a little watering and weeding, you and him go and have a bowl of bean and barley soup. It's all a part of Tu B'Shevat. Almost anything goes.

Ted Roberts is a nationally syndicated commentator and Jewish humorist. His work appears in the Jewish Press, as well as in Disney Magazine, Hadassah, Wall Street Journal, and others. He lives in Huntsville, Alabama.


from the January 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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