When I was on Shnat I remember talking to an Australian friend about Tu Bishvat recalling our experiences as children – mine planting seeds in the bitter cold, spade hitting frozen soil, tree unlikely to grown and his in the scorching sun, scrabbling at the dusty ground. Tree unlikely to grow.
We were in Israel and we picked up our spades, and planted trees under a gentle almost-spring sun, hoping for rain, with saplings likely to grow. It was then for the first time I understood ‘Why not Uganda?’
Israel, our ancient homeland is the centre of Jewish life, even from the Diaspora. Our religious lives centre on it; we sit freezing cold in sukkot and plant seeds that haven’t a hope in hell of growing why? Because עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה קָדִימָה וּלְפַאֲתֵי מִזְרָח “towards the ends of the east, an eye still looks toward Zion”
So aside from a nice anecdote about my own Zionism, what else can we learn about Tu Bishvat? Well it’s the New Year for the tress, Chag LaIlanot, and was the tool our ancient forbearers used as part of their agricultural calendar to determine the ages of trees and consequently which fruit they could eat. But what relevance does it have today?
Nowadays Tu Bishvat serves as a sort of ecological holiday, where we take notice of nature and think about our relationship with the world. We’re encouraged to eat grapes, olives, dates, figs and pomegranates the fruits specifically mentioned in the torah but what else? How can we make this festival meaningful for ourselves?
For me I think the challenge this Tu Bishvat is to think about how I can live more sustainably – more public transport, fewer taxis and more refilling a water bottle, less buying new. I ask you all to think about your relationship with the world and to take on something new this Tu Bishvat to make the world a greener place.