Virtual seders celebrate the birthday of the trees

Cantor Melanie Blatt
Cantor Melanie Blatt (Courtesy of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore)

Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, may not be the most recognizable Jewish holidays, but Baltimore’s Jewish community has several virtual seders in store for this upcoming celebration of the natural world.

Beth El Congregation of Baltimore has both a virtual Tu B’Shevat seder planned for Jan. 27 and a series of virtual workshops for Jan. 28. Beth El’s Cantor Melanie Blatt began planning her synagogue’s Tu B’Shevat celebrations Dec. 7, with the support of both Ben Kreshtool, the shul’s ritual director, and Brandon Chiat, the director of marketing and communications.

The virtual seder, Blatt said, will have all of Beth El’s clergy partaking in the traditional four cups of wine as well as three different fruits. The seder will also include a presentation from Amichai Luria, the founder of Israel’s Shiloh Winery.

Ben Kreshtool
Ben Kreshtool (Courtesy of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore)

The following day will include several online workshops, including a session on gardening and seed planting, a discussion on sustainability and reduction of carbon footprints with the Pearlstone Center’s Joan Plisko, and a wine tasting session led by Luria.

“A lot of Jews only think of synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and Chanukah,” said Chiat. “So what we decided to do was take Tu B’Shevat, which is something that’s maybe like a more or less observed holiday … and we’re elevating it, and we’re trying to give people opportunities to develop new traditions, new rituals, new experiences, new memories around a holiday they might not have normally observed in the past.”

Caren Leven
Caren Leven (Arielle Ashpes)

The Baltimore Zionist District is organizing a virtual tour of Israel for Jan. 26. Called “Tu BiShvat: The Holiday of Trees,” BZD’s tour will be led by their local guide, Gadi Ben-Dov, which will incorporate a virtual tree planting ceremony in the town of Modi’in. Additionally, special guest Kara Savitt, a scientific affairs officer from Israel’s U.S. embassy, will speak about her office’s efforts to safeguard the environment through the Green Embassy Initiative.

The BZD virtual tour is expected to focus on three of the seven species and their relationship to Israel: specifically pomegranate, wheat and olive oil, BZD Executive Director Caren Leven said. The other four species are barley, dates, figs and grapes.

“The pomegranate, with its numerous seeds, symbolizes the fruitfulness, and it’s a staple of Israel,” Leven said, while noting that wheat is connected to the traditional Shabbat challah. For olive oil, the virtual tour will be visiting Sindyanna of Galilee, which Leven called “the only fair trade olive oil producer in Israel, and established by women.”

Congregation Beit Tikvah will also have a Tu B’Shevat seder on Jan. 29, one which will utilize a special seder book that was put together years ago by a former Beit Tikvah Rabbi David Sulomm Stein, said Beit Tikvah treasurer Miriam Winder Kelly.

Beit Tikvah will also be sending out a list of grocery suggestions for those who wish to partake in the food that will be highlighted during the seder, Kelly said.

“Being close to the trees is so important to be part of nature,” Kelly said, “to be able to embrace the part of us that is cut off from many individuals who are city dwellers.”

Kelly is grateful of “the fact that we’re able to devote at least one day to appreciating what God has given us.”

1/20/21 5:41 p.m. Update: An earlier version of this article contained an error in the description of the BZD event. The Baltimore Zionist District event is a virtual tour. The Baltimore Jewish Times regrets this error.

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