YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood

Celebrating the Birthday of Trees, TuBishvat: An Eco-Friendly Way to Bring in the New Year

Judaism has four new years in its ecclesiastical calendar, each marking a different milestone. Today we may see multiple calendars as an unusual practice until you realize how many calendars may operate in your own life: the tax year, the school year, the fiscal year, and others. For ancient Israel, different agricultural seasons required different schedules depending on the growth and harvesting of the crop production. Ancient Israel started as an agricultural community where fruits grown and harvested were the beginnings of taxes and commodities for its commonwealths.

One of the New Years in Judaism, TuBishvat, celebrates the Birth of new Trees and their fruits marking the first full cycle of plant life. Although the holiday carries spiritual significance, many communities in the US and Israel celebrate the day by commemorating planet Earth and the interdependent nature we have to our environment. Communities recall how reliant they are to plant life and how many opportunities are provided because of what the Earth provides; communities also re-enforce the mutual obligations they have to the environment and what responsibilities are necessary to continue nature’s abundance.

The Y, Tamar Matza, led a seder for families and their children. A seder, Hebrew meaning order, is a ritual outline where each step narrates a story about the holiday and its importance. Like Passover, four cups of wine were served. Both red and white were served in different combinations. These combinations, such more red less white, served as the four seasons (spring, summer, winter, and fall). Although we are separate beings from the environment, we are part of its seasons and have our periods of change.

You might not expect a Christmas tree to appear at a Jewish event, but Tamar raised the standard when she had children make mobiles out of branches of Christmas trees and leafs of different seasons. The children learned the names of the fruits and the season in Hebrew, and were then helped by their parents to write the season in Hebrew on each relative branch. Yet Christmas trees weren’t the only thing being re-interpreted. Trees also have a symbolic importance and are metaphorically mentioned throughout the seder. Trees have seasons of death and re-birth, a cycle that parallel human existence. Trees also have roots and face adversity from the world around them. The trees’ resiliency to life is admired by Jewish communities because despite their tough circumstances, trees continue to grow and remain firm in their roots. Jewish communities hope to follow in the path of trees in their own lives.

To re-enforce the cycle of rebirth and renewal, Tamar had children plant seeds into recycled yogurt containers. Former trash brings forth new life uniting human creativity on reusing trash for the advancement of new life.

“We can be part of nature’s cycles if we look for opportunities to participate in its process,” says Tamar Matza, the Hebrew Immersion Instructor.

TuBishvatseder is one of many greening activities that are happening at the Y. Coming in April is the annual Earth Day celebration where Washington Heights and Inwood residents will come to the Y to .

To find more about innovative Jewish programming at the Y please contact Cyndi Rand at crand@ywashhts.org

By David Huggins

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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