22 January 2016
Do you have a favorite kind of tree?
It’s a weird question, and not one we typically think about. Full disclosure, if I personally had to pick I’d go for a palm tree, because it makes me think about the beach and warm weather and all sorts of relaxing, vacation-style things.
Now, the bigger question: why are we asking about trees?
This month, we celebrate Tu B’shevat, the Jewish holiday that has become known as the birthday of the trees. It’s a fun holiday, with lots of yummy things to eat and trees to plant, climb and enjoy. Unlike many Jewish holidays, there isn’t a typical story of “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” Tu B’shevat isn’t about overcoming oppression, escaping slavery, or avoiding destruction. It’s not a reactive holiday – it’s a proactive way to celebrate and honor trees.
Next question: what does this mean to us?
In biblical Israel, honoring trees makes sense. Trees meant water, a necessity for survival and a scarce resource in the desert. Trees meant shade for shepherds, fruit to eat, and wood for building. All of these are crucial things, and it’s easy to see why the people wanted to celebrate trees. But what about today? We have no shortage of trees, and the food that we eat very rarely comes directly from them. Our needs are taken care of, thankfully. So how can we connect with the spirit of this holiday?
It’s our job to take the time to appreciate the things that we see every day, but don’t always really notice. I see trees outside my windows, when I walk outside and lining the roads when I drive on the highway. It’s not a big deal. But if I start to notice them, I also notice the other things that I see all the time and don’t pay attention to. The people who keep my neighborhood clean. The countless food options available to me at any moment. The beautiful sun.
Appreciating trees is only the start of being aware and thankful for everything that we have. How will you celebrate Tu B’shevat?
By Samantha Vinokor