From the desk of Jean Graubart, Director of the Center for Jewish Living and Learning
Tomorrow we celebrate Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the month of Shevat), which is considered the NEW YEAR of TREES.
Like on Rosh Hashanah, when the fate of human beings is decided, the fate of trees is decreed on this day: which shall flourish and grow, and which shall wither and shrink, suffering from adverse weather and harmful insects.
Our Jewish calendar is linked to the cycle of nature in Israel; Shevat marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Traditionally, the first blooming of the almond tree is celebrated as a sign of the miracle of nature; here, we can look to the cherry blossoms.
The Torah is compared to a tree of life. The tree, while especially meaning to the Jewish community, has universal meaning as well. It represents sustenance, beauty, nourishment and shade. Trees signify life, continuity and hope. On TuB’Shevat we have the opportunity to celebrate this gift of nature.
I remember that on Tu B’Shevat I would buy my kids a plant. We would talk about the care and love it needed to grow and they would get excited about the prospect of being a part of the plant’s growth and blooming. This was a way to bring this holiday home for them in a very personal way.
We also spread out the fruits of a variety of trees found in Israel on our kitchen table. The tradition is to eat three different types of fruit or nuts. First is the fruit whose shell is not eaten: banana, orange, kiwi and almonds. Second is the fruit whose pit is not eaten: dates, cherries, prunes and olives. Third is the fruit that is eaten in it’s entirity: grapes (raisins), figs, berries.
As always, sharing holiday food makes for festive custom. One year, while enjoying these fruits at our home, one of our neighbors said, “It is wonderful that Jewish holidays are so healthy.” ( We didn’t dare invite her to Passover.)
If all the fresh and dried fruits are feeling a little too crunchy, there is of course a baking tradition as well: fruit breads. One of my favorite recipes is below–easy and yes, still healthy.
DATE NUT BREAD
1 cup boiling water
1 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup yellow (or dark) raisins
1 teaspoon baking soda (scantly measured)
Pour boiling water over dates, raisins and add baking soda. Let stand while mixing:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 cup chopped almonds (pecans or walnuts are fine too)
Cream butter and sugar.
Add remaining ingredients including the date mixture and nuts.
Bake in greased loaf pan at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean.
Serve with cream cheese or jam.
Freezes well to enjoy after the holiday as well, so double it!