Today is March 9, 2014 - 7 Adar 5774
of Westport, Weston and Wilton
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Notes from our Cantor
Posted on May 02, 2013
When I was a child, I learned that T’u B’Shvat was “the new year of the trees.” I imagined party hats on the leaves and streamers around the trunks, and really didn’t grasp why on Earth there would be a “tree new year.”
Years later, I learned that the roots of the holiday were in SecondTemple period tithing practices. Analogous to a tax, one-tenth of the land’s annual produce was to be brought to the Temple as an offering to God and as support for the community. The tax year was set to begin on the 15th (t’u stands for 15 in Hebrew letters) of the month of Sh’vat. The date purportedly marked the rising of the sap for a new year of growth, yet was long before any new fruit would appear; thus the old crop year was clearly distinguished from the new.
After the destruction of the Temple in 70CE and the dispersion of Jewish life, tithing was no longer practiced and T’u Bishvat all but faded from Jewish life. It was revived hundreds of years ago as Jews began to return to the land of Israel following the Spanish expulsion, and as Kabbalism grew in the Israeli city of Tsfat. The holiday gained further relevance with modern Zionism’s return to the land, and with the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948.
During the past thirty years, T’u B’Shvat has blossomed still further with the emergence of eco-Judaism. Decades before $97 barrels of oil and drowning polar bears,
eco-Judaism became the modern Jewish approach to reinterpreting our relationship with the environment. The leaders of this effort have focused on exploring the relationship between adam and adamah, between humankind and Earth. An outgrowth of their focus has been a re-energizing of the holiday of T’u B’Shvat, beginning this year on Wednesday evening, January 15th.
Eco-Judaism has given rise to such organizations as the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). COEJL has advocated “a nationwide campaign to engage the entire Jewish community in awareness, advocacy, and action to conserve energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote energy legislation.” They make a proud example of SodaStream, an Israeli company, which developed “CO²O infusing products to create soda and sparkling water at home, in an effort to help the public reduce waste from bottles and cans purchased at stores. According statistics from the U.S. Recycling Institute, more than 80 percent of bottles in the U.S. do not get recycled and end up in landfills.”
What an astounding impact we can have! But as Jews, we learn from an early age that our actions can have great impact, and COEJL’s words remind us that by acting in concert with the Earth, we can each make an important difference for the environment. This year, as I look forward to leading our annual Sisterhood-sponsored women’s T’u B’Shvat seder (10:30AM on Thursday, January 16), I encourage all of our community to act on the words of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers): “It is not your duty to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Wishing you a bright, sweet and fruitful month!
Cantor Laura Berman