The new year of the trees

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

We are in week two of 2024 and the question is being asked, “How long do we keep wishing people a Happy New Year?” What an interesting question and why are we wondering? There are probably many reasons, but perhaps it has to do with the hope that we have something to celebrate this new year. One of the many wonderful things about Judaism is that we celebrate on a regular basis. We have Shabbat every week, Rosh Chodesh every month and a year filled with holidays, meaning we are always getting ready for the next one. (And that is not to mention all the daily rituals and blessings.)

Here at the J, the kids all sing a song called “Round and Round”:

Every morning the sun comes up and every evening the sun goes down.
It’s a beautiful thing the way it all goes together — and the world goes round and round.
The minutes and the hours and the days pass by; months turn to years but I don’t know why.
G-d makes it all happen right before our eyes and the world goes round and round.

We have so much to celebrate (even and maybe especially during these challenging times) that we need to just look around to find the next celebration opportunity. As a Jewish educator, I am often on to the next holiday before the last one is over. This week is Rosh Chodesh Shevat, the month with Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, on Thursday, Jan. 25. I’m already planning and my recommendation is for everyone to start learning and planning for a fun learning celebration. Just google Tu B’Shevat Seder and you can start there. It is fun, easy, delicious and perfect for every age.

Not only do we have holidays to celebrate, we have important Jewish values that connect to the holidays and become part of who we are throughout the year. The Tanach is filled with stories and commandments of how we are supposed to treat the land and all that live on that land. From the very first chapters in Genesis, we are told to “rule” and “master” and “to till and tend.” In some ways today, we have taken the “rule and master” as license to do whatever we wish and our land is paying the price. How can we get back to the real idea that G-d has given us a gift and we must take care of that gift? We are “shomrim adamah” — “guardians of the earth” — and this lesson must start young. What we are learning today is not only that the earth needs caring for but that caring for the earth helps every one of us in so many ways. I often recommend books but here is a website: www.childrenandnature.org. We need to experience the land to connect to it, value it and care for it and through our experiences we will grow. Here are two texts to remind us.

The whole world of humans, animals, fish and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. —Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 2

Every kind of fish, bird and animal contributes something to the world you live in — even the ones you may consider to be unnecessary, such as fleas, gnats and flies. —Midrash Genesis Rabbah 10:7

So now as we say our last “Happy New Year,” let’s get ready for the cycle of the year with the next new month and the next holiday.

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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