Tu BiSh’vat at Temple B’nai Torah

Last year the Tu BiShvat seder at Temple B’nai Torah was so successful that this year it was incorporated into our 8 p.m. Shabbat service this past week. A committee of hardworking and dedicated volunteers coordinated everything so we all could participate in a traditional Tu BiShvat seder—including nuts, wine (grape juice), and fruits associated with the holiday—as part of our Shabbat service, which—because of the seder—was held in the social hall.

As is our custom for special services, the portable ark, including a Torah from the sanctuary, was brought into the social hall, and tables and chairs were set up. The junior youth group decorated the tables with handmade paper chains on which members had written holiday messages focused on trees. As congregants and worshipers arrived, our ushers greeted them, distributed a service booklet specially created by the rabbi and two congregants, and encouraged families to sit together.

Throughout the seder, our rabbi asked volunteers to read passages that discussed the Tu BiSh’vat traditions, the reason for the ceremony, the prayers related to the holiday and the importance of the specific foods being eaten.  Because it was snowing and spring was on everyone’s mind, the second passage read that evening seemed especially appropriate:  “It is the time of year when we on Long Island are so often enveloped in gray. Tu BiSh’vat beckons us to reflect upon spring.

At first I was taken aback by the use of a printed service booklet, but as the service progressed—especially during the reading of this passage:  “Plant trees to replace those we and others use”—I realized that we were, in fact, honoring the traditions of Tu BiSh’vat. The trees were recycled into paper, which enabled us to have the booklets.  In the spirit of conservation, the booklets would be reused in one of our classrooms, further honoring the idea of recycling.

During the service, the cantor incorporated holiday-themed music including David Mallet’s Garden Song and we ate and drank as the seder progressed.  I was fascinated to learn that the reason for starting with white wine or grape juice for the first cup was “To remind us of winter. The earth is barren, sometimes snow covered.” Slowly adding red for cups two and three represented the “awakening flowers in spring.” A young girl at my table noticed how the colors mixed and some glasses were not as light pink as hers.  Perhaps, as the explanation of the third glass suggests, the red helps us “cherish the warmth of our bodies and of all living things shared by people in this room, and the warmth that comes from knowing that God is everywhere.”

It wasn’t until the rabbi told of being in Israel and exiting from a holocaust museum into a forest of trees that I realized the beauty and sense of awe that trees can create. Although we do not have a forest in our temple’s backyard—thanks to many of our dedicated congregants—we do have a beautiful garden around our building that always seems to be in bloom.

As the service drew to an end, the congregation read the final passage together: “There is no symbol of the fullness of God.  The Torah shows that the best we can do is to live our lives well and recognize our responsibilities.” I like to think that, as the URJ website describes, “During this festival we consider our obligation to care for God’s world, of which we are the custodians, and our responsibility for sharing the fruits of God’s earth with all.” Indeed, with everyone doing his or her part, the world is in good hands.