Tu B’Shevat is the Jewish Arbor Day. It is a minor Jewish holiday, but it’s recently come into focus as we grapple with contemporary environmental issues and try to reconnect Judaism with its natural roots. The name Tu B’Shevat is the Hebrew pronunciation of a date in the Jewish calendar, when the holiday takes place. There are a variety of spellings in the English Transliteration.
Trees are often used as symbols in Judaism: for the torah, the Jewish people, or even a human being. There are many biblical references to trees, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the Cedars of Lebanon.
Evidence of the first Tu B’Shevat seder appeared in the 17th century. The Kabbalists, or Jewish mystics, created a pamphlet called Pri Etz Hadar (The Fruit of the Majestic Tree), with prayers and meanings that followed the structure of a Passover Seder.
Tu B’Shevat Hiking Seder
Here in Southern California, we have the luxury of being able to be outside comfortably in the middle of winter (usually). Instead of sitting at a table with kids, we have a hiking seder! Starting at the base of a hill in our city park, we gather the community together and introduce the event with a song or story. We collectively make our way up the hill, carrying guitars, ukuleles, the fruits for the different realms, and little cups to drink white juice or red juice. To keep the kids in touch with their surroundings, we provide a scavenger hunt list of items for them to collect and observe. We stop and gather the group along the way for each of the 4 realms, and give a small teaching. When we reach the top there is a garden and the kids run around to explore. We might sing a song or have a final blessing. Everyone returns down the path at their leisure. At the bottom, we have a craft project for the kids (most recently, a sun catcher using found materials). If it’s not too cold, families can stay for an optional picnic!
Tu B’Shevat Resources
An introductory prayer via Kabbalah Online, from the original Tu B’Shevat seder in Tzefat.
Hazon offers a comprehensive list of online Tu B’Shevat resources, including songs with recordings, and pdfs for you to lead a tu B’Shevat seder in your home.
NeoHasid has a simple, beautiful resource for a seder, very suited for a secular community. The guide presents simple discussion questions for each seasonal realm.
Aish has online published a more traditional, dense Seder via A Person is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu BeShvat, by Yitzhak Buxbaum (Jason Aronson Inc.). It walks you through an entire Seder with readings and responses from the leader, as well as rabbinic texts and torah based quotes.
Aish also offers an interesting article on how trees can serve as inspiration. What trees are in your life? What are some facts about them? How to they inspire you?
Hillel, the foundation for Jewish campus life, has a pdf of the tu B’Shevat seder including the history of Tu B’Shevat in the appendix, geared toward college students.
The Lookstein Center has even more printable Seders and resources! It includes Babaganewz’s zionist seder, and a program for 3-5 year olds.