It’s always amazing for me to see that, even after thousands of years, the Jewish world and the Jewish traditions are still relevant today. You never know when something that has never been important to you as a Jew will come back and, “hit you in the face,” as they say.
I never cared much for or had a strong connection with Tu B’shevat. All I knew about it is that it is the “birthday of trees” and a day when we are supposed to plant seeds in school and eat a lot of dried fruits as a symbol of the rich land in Israel. That is what I did every Tu B’shvat for many years. And since you don’t even get a day off from school, like you do for Chanukah or Passover, it felt completely insignificant.
Ironically, today, when I am away from the rich and fertile land of Israel and I will not get a chance to taste the dark dates of the Arava or the sweet figs of the desert, I feel more than ever that Tu B’shevat is a holiday that I can fully identify with, as a Jew and as a human being.
At a time when global warming has become a worldwide problem, when every day more and more species are added to the extinction lists, when countries all over the world (Israel being one of them) are facing serious water shortages and people are dying from polluted water resources and air pollution, we have to ask ourselves, how did we get to this point? How did we get to a point where our planet is dying because of our way of life? How did we get to a point where our comfort level is more important to us than our surroundings?
The answer is simple: We forgot!
In our constant rush after money, possessions and a successful career, we forgot to stop, look around, breath deep and be thankful for the beautiful life we have here on this planet.
Scientists call this planet “habitable.” It’s a fancy word to describe a phenomenon we don’t understand at all. It means a planet that can supply a very specific set of factors in which life like ours can evolve and become what we know today. The reason I say we don’t understand it, is that the earth is the only planet that we know that has these specific conditions. We cannot really compare it to anything else out there in space, but we can say that it has something to do with the fact that we have an ozone layer, fresh water and enough oxygen in the air so we can breathe. The combination of those three things is what we think makes living here possible. It is so easy for us to take these things for granted and forget what a miracle it is that we are even here, walking and talking, while we disregard our future.
That is why today Tu B’shevat has a whole new meaning for me. Tu B’shvat is not a holiday to remember the figs and the dates. It’s not a holiday to eat dried fruits and send greeting cards. As I see it today Tu B’shevat’s main purpose is to remind us that our planet is not to be taken for granted and that if we don’t take care of it, then no one will. Most importantly, if we don’t start today, maybe one day, not far from now, it will be too late.
So for this Tu B’shevat, make new resolutions. Start recycling and take shorter showers. Take a canvas bag when you go to the super market, instead of using those plastic ones. You can even plant a tree (through the JNF, of course!) or start using recycled paper. There are many different ways in which you can get greener, and every little act matters.
So have a happy Tu B’shevat and keep our planet clean!
Adam Weiss is the Stamford JCC shaliach.