The Tu B’Shevat Hiking Seder


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.



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The Cheater’s Latke Recipe


Time is of the essence, especially when dealing with kids. This recipe is easy and I’ll share how I cheated, and avoided the most time-consuming aspect of Latke making: grating the potatoes.

I used a slightly modified recipe from

  • 2 cups peeled and shredded potatoes
  •  1 tablespoon grated onion
  •  3 eggs, beaten
  •  2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  •  1/2 cup Canola for frying

1. Go to your local grocery store and buy frozen, pre-shredded potatoes. (cheating!) They are usually in the form of hash-browns. Just make sure they aren’t lumped together in any shape (like tater-tots).

2. Go to your local grocery store and buy pre-diced onions. (cheating!)

3. Defrost

4. In a medium bowl stir the potatoes, onion, eggs, flour and salt together.

5. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. Serve hot!

*This recipe is not certified Kosher.

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Grati-Jewd: A Jewish Thanksgiving

Who is rich? The one who is happy with what (s)he has.
– Ben Zoma, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Ancestors)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday because it’s American and completely kosher for Jews to celebrate. In fact, some believe the holiday was derived from the harvest festival of sukkot. There are many themes that we can build on Jewishly in celebration of the holiday: Pilgrims, immigrants, religious liberty, tzeddakah and, of course, food and gratitude.


Thanksgiving Haggaddah
Jews definitely know food. Building off of the Passover model, this amazing Thanksgiving Haggaddah, tells the story of the pilgrims, breaks down the meal as if it is a Seder plate and even poses four questions:

  1. Why is this holiday of Thanksgiving different for us from other holidays that we celebrate as American Jews?
  2. What are the things we are thankful this year?
  3. How can we help others who are in need during this season?
  4. Why do we eat special foods for Thanksgiving?

Food opens up many avenues to discuss alternative ways of eating, such as Kashrut and Vegetarianism, and why people chose to eat differently.

Jews are not strangers to hunger. Even biblically, the Israelites starved in the desert and begged for food. Manna, a mysterious, divine food, sustained them. (Along with quails!) Discuss: What would it mean to never need food? Where does your food come from?

Being grateful is an important part of Judaism. Yehudim (Jews), from the name Yehuda or Judah, means grateful to G-d. While the word for thank you in Hebrew is todah, The Hebrew term for gratitude is hikarat hatov, which means, literally, “recognizing the good.” This article from aish reveals Judaic sources of gratitude, and shares some excellent stories you can impart around your thanksgiving table. A Jewish video project even put out a 15 minute animation and a study guide to walk through some Jewish ideas of gratitude. (Warning: it gets into some adult content.)

Blessing (Bracha) and Prayers (tefillah) are often ways of expressing thankfulness.  Blessings are usually in praise of G-d, but for those who are more comfortable with the humanistic approach, simply replace thanks to G-d with thanks to the universe or thanks to the unknown. Instead of saying God you can also say Adonai, which frames the divine more Jewishly. Discuss: Why say a blessing?

Birkat Hamazon
Traditionally, after every meal where bread is broken, Jews say the birkat hamazon and reference the time the people received Manna in the desert. Birkat is sometimes called bensching. If you’ve never heard the post-meal praise before, watch this video that walks you through the entire reform version of the birkat or check out this camp version. The birkat is an epic chant of gratitude post-feast, and is one of the most important prayers in Judaism (though never recited in synagogue).

Modeh Ani
Modeh Ani is a prayer we say when we wake up in the morning, which essentially says, “I’m so thankful I’m alive!” Here’s the prayer and its origins. It is a reminder of the preciousness of life, and the gratitude we have for being alive: “I Greatfully Thank You, living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – abundant is your faithfulness!” Hebrew for Christians has a great printable study card. Here is A cute campy version of the song on youtube.


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Kid Crafts: Jews in the Arts

Individual people can be windows into a culture. Here are a few Jewish artists and activities that are fun, kid-friendly, and encapsulate a unique piece of Jewish history and life.


Barbra Streisand and Fanny Brice –Jewish Beauty!
Streisand was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family. Her father died when she was only a year old, and the family fell into poverty. She went to the Jewish Orthodox Yeshiva of Brooklyn and performed at the age of 7. In her teens she sang in night clubs and soon made it to Broadway. Streisand became enormously successful as a singer, actress, writer, film producer and director, defying gender roles and concepts of beauty. She is one of the few entertainers to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award.

Vocab: Immigration, Ethnicity, Brooklyn, Yeshiva, Metaphor (Don’t Rain on my Parade!), Zigfeld Follies

  • Looks, Rejection and Talent
  • Watch video first: I’m the greatest star on YouTube. It’s from the movie Funny Girl. What do you see? What is she saying? What do you think going to happen? Read through the lyrics (they’re on the youtube site.) Discuss: Feeling rejected or not wanted. Building up a tough skin. Have you ever experienced that in your life? Tell your kids a story of rejection and how you dealt with it. Allow them to tell their own story, or write it down.
  • Discuss: What do you consider beautiful? All people are beautiful, but ideas of beauty can change like fashion. Many American Jews didn’t have an icon of “beauty” or didn’t fit into traditional ideas of good looks. Barbra Streisand broke the mold!
  • Compare to Fanny Brice, a Jewish comedienne from the early 20th century, who inspired the play Funny Girl and Streisand’s character. How do their voices sound different?
  • Family Movie Night: Watch Yentl


The Marx Brothers –Shtick!
The Marx Brothers were actual brothers: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo. They were born to a poor, artistic, Jewish immigrant family in New York City. The family performed together in various ways, eventually falling into comedy. In World War I, the family tried to conceal their German origins. By the 1920s they were favorites on the American stage, known for improvisation, being quirky, and making fun of class. They soon moved to Hollywood as talking films took hold.
Vocab: Vaudeville, New York, Broadway, improvisation, World War I, Hollywood, talkies.

  • The Mirror Game
  • Watch this video of Groucho and Harpo in the Mirror Scene. Teach your kid how to play the mirror game. First A is the leader and B has to follow. You cannot touch the other person. Then B is the leader and A has to follow. Now, try to do it so that no one is leading and no one is following and see what happens! Make your own glasses out of pipe cleaners and a mustache and eyebrows with black felt and glue dots. Do your best Groucho imitation. Play the mirror game in costume. This game is good for learning to pay attention and work with a partner.
  • Family Movie Night: Watch Duck Soup


Emma Lazarus –Poetry and Justice!
Lazarus was born in 1849 to a wealthy, Sephardic Jewish family. She was a poet and a member of New York’s German-speaking Jewish elite. Jewish immigrants poured into New York to escape persecution in Eastern Europe, and Emma was moved by their plight. She thought everyone deserved refuge. The Statue of Liberty committee picked her poem, “The New Colossus” to appear on the statue of Liberty for its message: “Give you me your tired, your poor/your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” She also became a Zionist before the word Zionism existed, and corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson until she died at the young age of 38.

Vocab: Zionism, poetry, Sephardic Jewry, The Statue of Liberty, Colossus, Emmerson, elite, pogroms, Eastern Europe, Freedom.

  • The New Colossus
  • Read through the poem. What is Lazarus saying? Who is the statue for? Write your own poem for the statue of liberty. What would you want to say to new people coming into the country?
  • Print out and fill in the Emma Lazarus Coloring Book.


Marc Chagall — Surrealism and homeland!
Chagall was an artist born in Belarus in 1887. He was the oldest of 9 kids and was raised in a Jewish home. He had a happy childhood and he painted about it for his whole life. He learned about art in Russia as a boy. He became a French citizen, but lived in the U.S. during the Nazi occupation. He is known for his Bible prints, stained glass and surrealist works with Jewish themes.

Vocab: Stained-glass, Modernism, Surrealism, Belarus/Russia, Shtetls

  • Stained Glass
  • What is stained glass? Look at some of Chagall’s stained glass work. Make “stained glass” in his style using contact paper and tissue paper. Cut small pieces of tissue paper and place on the contact paper to hang and cut. Include a cut out of a Chagall animal head or character, traced.
  • Additional stained glass ideas here.


Chana Orloff – Famous Faces!
Orloff was a sculptor born in 1888 in Ukraine. After suffering through pogroms, her family moved to Palestine in 1905. She worked as a cutter and seamstress, and moved to Paris to become a professional. However, it was in France where she fell in love with art (she was friends with Chagall). Many of her sculptures were destroyed during the Nazi occupation. She is known for working with wood, and for sculpting famous people.

Vocab: Ukraine, Pogrom, Palestine, British Mandate, Sculpture.

  • Playing with sculpture
  • Define sculpture.  Go on a hunt for potential sculptures in your house. Which is your favorite? What makes it a sculpture? How many did you find?
  • Using playdough, see if you can make a face. What famous person would you want to sculpt?


Naomi Shemer – Music and Israel!
Shemer was born in 1930 in Kvuzat Kinneret. She was musical from a very young age, becoming a song leader on Kibbutz and then moved to Tel Aviv. She wrote a musical and composed songs for the IDF. Her songs often evoke the landscapes of Israel and her childhood. She was famous for her song “Jerusalem of Gold”, which became an anthem during the 1967 Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem. Later she wrote Lu Yehi about the Yom Kippur War. The tune was inspired by the Beatles’ Let it Be.
Vocab: Kibbutz, Zionism, Jerusalem, Israel, Kibbutz, IDF, 1967 Six Day War, Yom Kippur War.

  • Images from Jerusalem
  • Listen to Yerushalayim shel Zahav. Read through the English of the song.
  • Ask: What are some of the Images? Make a list. (Mountain air, wine, pines, twilight, bells, tree, wall, gold, bronze, light, violin, cistern, market, Old City, Temple Mount, caves, Dead Sea, Jericho, crown, poet, scorched lips, angels). Write JERUSALEM in the center of a piece of paper and pick 5 images or colors to draw around the name, that you pulled from Shemer’s song.
  • Geography addition: Look on a map and point to all of the places listed.
  • Family Music: Listen to Naomi Shemer songs in the car on the way to school.


Leonard Bernstein – The American Composer!
Louis Bernstein was born in 1918 in Massachusetts to Polish Jewish parents. He was musical from a young age, although his father initially discouraged the pursuit of the art. Bernstein attended Harvard and studied with other major musicians. He later went the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. From there he moved to New York and began a lifelong career as a composer and conductor. His career began to blossom after World War II. He conducted in Israel in 1947, and returned many times thereafter. He was also a noted philanthropist and public speaker, and a major influence on orchestral music, best known for his musical West Side Story.

  • Words inspired
  • Write a poem inspired by a Bernstein composition. To inspire poem: Give one word answers. How does this music make you feel? If this music were food, what would it taste like? If it were a painting, what would it look like? What colors would you use? If you could touch it, how would it feel? String the words and thoughts together into a class poem, or have them write one individually.
  • To get on your feet: Freeze Dance!
  • Family Music: Listen to Leonard Bernstein music in the car on the way to school! 

*Note, Yiddish Theater is excluded here. To come in the spring!



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How To Create: Happy New Year!


The Jewish New Year is considered the birthday of creation, giving us time to celebrate and contemplate existence. There are two creation stories in Judaism (the same original text as the Christian creation story). Surprise! The first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:3) is remarkably similar to the Babylonian creation story, likely when it was written. The first story is focused on big picture creation—heaven, earth, animals etc.—and the order of days. The second creation (Genesis 2:5-3:24) story gets more into people (Adam and Even) in the Garden of Eden and explains a few important things: 1. Why snakes slither 2. Why people are afraid of snakes 3. Why childbirth is painful and women have no rights. 4. Why men have to work for food. 5. Why we wear clothes. 6. Why we know stuff, but don’t live forever. (One can argue there is even a third creation story, after the flood destroys earth and Noah’s ark contains the only survivors.)

As human beings, our ability to create is profound. Sometimes we lose track of this important spark (some might say it is divine). Here are a few tips from NPR on how to get your creative on in the New Year.

Spark Your Creativity

  1. Take A Shower
  2. Work in a Blue Room
  3. Live Abroad
  4. Watch a Funny Video
  5. Sleep on It

Side note: On Dominating the animals.
The language of dominating the animals in genesis is not exactly, shall we say, keeping with modern ideas of environmentalism. The word in hebrew for “dominate”, however, has different connotations. Rashi, a famous Jewish scholar, interpreted the phrase in a different way:  

  • Heb. וְיִרְדּוּ The expression vayirdu may imply dominion as well as declining—if he is worthy, he dominates over the beasts of the earth and the cattle, and if he is not worthy, he will sink lower than them, and the beasts will rule over him.

This article from MyJewishLearning explains how the two creation stories have conflicting ideas of nature.  Another Huffington Post writer challenges the idea of dominion, as well.

*Image: Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 480-year-old “Adam and Eve” diptych currently on view at the Norton Simon Museum. (But go soon, this Nazi-looted piece may soon be returned to the original family.) 

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Kid Crafts: Rosh Hashanah

Apple Stamped Fall Scarves or Tallitot

These brilliant apple stamps can be used on banners, card stamps, or on fabric cut into the shape of a scarf or a mini tallit. It’s a chance to explain what a tallit is and why they might see it in synagogue on the high holidays! Discuss “holy” clothing. Are there clothes that you wear that make you feel special? Recognize and be thankful we have clothing and shoes, unlike a lot of people in the world. If you have a tallit have your kid try it on. Ask: How do you feel? Protected? Take that idea with you into the New Year and wear your tallit if you go to synagogue for the high holidays.

Make a Mezuza
Find every kind of mezuza you could want to make from the Bible Belt Balabusta. (Including a Pezuza!) Discuss beginning the year with a symbol on your door. Explain what the mezuza is and what is inside of it. You can do the prayer together and practice it. Have kids write their own wish for the New Year inside, accompanying the Shema.

Brain Bubble
Draw a self-portrait or cut out a portrait photograph with little thought bubbles coming out. Write out one-word dreams for the New Year. Use magazines etc for collage.


New Year Cards (Vintage Style!)
It’s common to make cards for the New Year and send to friends and family. Try sending a card to your future self to see if you achieve your goals! Or make a card to people who are less fortunate to emphasize tzeddakah. You can use apple stamps for the cover or magazines for collage. I found these awesome Vintage RH postcards. Print them postcard size in black and white and kids can color them in with colored pencils and paste them onto cards or watercolor paper.

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An East Side Jew’s Guide to the High Holidays

Looking for a synagogue to check out for the high holidays but feeling really confused about all of your options? Here’s an at-a-glance guide to High Holiday services around the east side of Los Angeles. Continue reading

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