As cases of the omicron variant surge, Tu B’Shevat approaches.
Tu B’Shevat celebrates the new year of the trees. This year, the holiday begins the evening of Jan. 16.
Tu B’Shevat “is an opportunity in this Jewish year cycle that we have to pause and really notice and pay attention to our relationship to the natural world that we are a part of,” said Rabbi Michael Hess Webber of Columbia Jewish Congregation.
As the pandemic worsens again, many synagogues and Jewish organizations have moved their Tu B’Shevat seders and events online.
CJC, a Reconstructionist synagogue, is holding a virtual seder on Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. The congregation was hoping the seder could be in person, but like last year, they deemed that it was not safe to eat at a seder without masks.
“This is our second year doing a virtual Tu B’Shevat seder,” Hess Webber said. “Last year, it worked really well. We had a really good turnout, and it was a great interactive event.”
The congregation is making home kits for the seder, which contain assorted fruits from all over the world, and then delivering them to people’s houses. Fruit is a significant part of the Tu B’Shevat celebration.
Similarly, the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown is holding their own Tu B’Shevat seder, called We Are One: An Environmental Justice Tu B’Shevat Seder, virtually on Jan. 16. Pearlstone’s seder will begin at 8 p.m.
Pearlstone is in the process of merging with the national Jewish organization Hazon, and the two organizations are hosting this seder together.
Pearlstone and Hazon will provide participants with haggadot for the seder, as well as the option to order a meal and a seder plate from the Pearlstone kitchen. The seder plate includes clementines, shell-on walnuts, shell-on pistachios, dried apricots, dried whole figs, dates with pits and cinnamon sticks.
Meanwhile, the JCC of Greater Baltimore canceled the in-person event, Babies, Books and Bagels: Tu B’Shevat edition, which is one of the JCC’s Hands on Holiday programs. The event was geared toward families with young children. It was not an option to hold this program online, according to the JCC.
“We will not be holding it on Zoom as we do not think Zoom presents an engaging platform for our young children,” read an email from the JCC of Greater Baltimore.
This year, Tu B’Shevat falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so Chizuk Amuno Congregation is sponsoring a virtual event, led by Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. The event is called Chesapeake Conversations: Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere.”
During the event, organizers will virtually screen a short film, “Disruption: Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere,” which discusses a road built that negatively impacted the Black community in Baltimore. Then, they will have a panel discussion, according to the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake website.
“Rabbi Debi Wechsler, one of our two rabbis, is presenting the opening reflection [at the event], which will include a prayer for Tu B’Shevat, so in her remarks, she’ll be tying together the ecological nature of the [Highway to Nowhere] discussion with the holiday of Tu B’Shevat and its meaning,” said Lee Sherman, the executive director of Chizuk Amuno.
Other organizations also emphasize the connection between Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Tu B’Shevat. For example, CJC’s seder this year is a collaboration between their standing for racial justice committee and their green team, and the Pearlstone Center’s theme for their seder is environmental justice.
“It’s not just about environmental sustainability and addressing the climate crisis, it’s also about environmental justice,” said Bruce Spierer of Hazon. “We need to support and take care of everyone along the way, making sure the most vulnerable among us don’t get left behind or harmed.”