Baltimore Celebrates Tu B’Shevat in Nature


January is a time of cold, hostile weather, when all the leaves have fallen and the branches of trees are left bare. So it may seem like a strange time to celebrate the bounty of nature.

Adamah CEO Jakir Manela planting trees with other Pearlstone participants (Courtesy of Pearlstone)

Still, Tu B’Shevat is celebrated without fail every year during the 15th of Shevat, the month of the Hebrew calendar that often stretches from January into February.

This year, Tu B’Shevat, also known as “the new year of the trees,” will be observed from the evening of Jan. 24 through the evening of Jan. 25. While Tu B’Shevat is not the most commonly celebrated Jewish holiday, the day has been adopted as an Israeli version of Arbor Day and a time for environmental activism and field work, according to Jewish Virtual Library.

Tu B’Shevat is a common day for people to plant trees, and for those who live on Israeli kibbutzim, it is often a day for agricultural work. Though Baltimore is thousands of miles away from those kibbutzim, local Jewish organizations are offering a variety of different ways to celebrate the holiday by engaging in environmentally friendly work.

Pearlstone in particular has organized several events to celebrate Tu B’Shevat — many of which are being held in partnership with other Jewish groups. Last year, Pearlstone completed a merger, becoming the headquarters of Adamah, a national organization largely focused on environmental activism and climate action. For Pearlstone, Tu B’Shevat is a meaningful holiday because of how it ties into the organization’s mission and love of nature.

“The Kabbalists say, ‘inside the trees the sap starts to flow on this very day,’” said Avihay Aharoni, a shaliach (Jewish educator from Israel) at Pearlstone. “In Israel, the almond trees are starting to bloom and the dramatic red anemones flowers are blooming in the Negev — each giving us a look at rebirth and life, the joy that spring is around the corner.”

As part of its Tu B’Shevat programming, Pearlstone is hosting “Tu B’Shevat in Nature: A Unique Experience for Young Adults” on Jan. 24, a special seder for the holiday with opportunities to meditate in nature and enjoy the natural wildlife of Pearlstone’s campus.

Attendees will be able to gift trees through donations, with a designated tree planting day scheduled for April 7 once spring has arrived.

Pearlstone is also hosting “Beauty of Tu B’Shevat on the Land” with the Holocaust Survival Social Club and Na’aleh: The Hub for Leadership Learning on Jan. 25. This event is an all-ages seder featuring demonstrations of tapping trees for maple syrup. Tree tapping is also an activity at “Tu B’Shevat in Practice” on Jan. 28, an event for students in kindergarten through seventh grade, their teachers and their parents.

“This holiday connects all the Jews around the world to the land of Israel as we celebrate the bounty of fruit and nuts. The early Zionists planted trees on this day to show the world that the land of Israel is alive and connected to nature,” Aharoni said. “Today, this day is connected to climate change and how we can save our planet. We are reminded of the relationship between us and trees that we live in balance with nature and live in harmony
with the environment.”

The JCC of Greater Baltimore is also holding an event aimed at young children. On Jan. 21, there will be a Tu B’Shevat celebration for children aged 6 and under featuring crafts and snacks for attendees and their parents. Internally, the JCC is also hosting an exclusive Tu B’Shevat nature walk for its staff.

“Tu B’Shevat being ‘the new year of the trees’ is often initially confusing to celebrate in America in the middle of winter. It’s during the dark and cold days here, we remember that things will once again bloom and grow,” said Melissa Seltzer, senior director of arts and culture at the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “Exploring seasons and cultures that are different from ours (especially Israel) is part of the global citizenship we try to instill in our children.”

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