Voices from the field
Chaggigat Tu B’shvat
There are many challenges faced by those of us who work full time in Jewish education; the lack of family commitment, the limited hours we have with students, and, perhaps toughest of all, convincing Jewish children who live in the Midwest that spring is coming in February! Tu B’shvat may in fact be the harbinger of Spring in the Jewish homeland but for those of us who greet each day with boots and a shovel, hardly.
Many of us “of a certain age” remember collecting green stamps or the JNF equivalent to plant trees. I think the connection to the holiday was tenuous at best but luckily, so much has changed.
Tu B’shvat has morphed into the Jewish Peoples’ green chag; an opportunity to recognize the species native to the land of Israel and connect to the growing awareness to ecology and stewardship of the earth that is inherently a Jewish concept.
In our congregation, we created an event that has served to truly transmit the holiday of Tu B'shevat to my hat and glove laden students in a way that has helped them to embrace the holiday beyond an effort of tree planting alone Chaggigat Tu B’shvat is hosted by our oldest Hebrew School students who take the lead in planning and serve as the teachers for the younger ones. Each year the program takes on a bit of a different shape. Generally, we have created set of stations, each representing one of the seven species as outlined in the Torah.
Deuteronomy 8:8 tells us that Israel was "a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and date honey."
The seven species are:
- Wheat (chitah in Hebrew)
- Barley (se'orah in Hebrew)
- Grapes (gefen in Hebrew), usually consumed as wine
- Figs (te'enah in Hebrew)
- Pomegranates (rimon in Hebrew)
- Olives (zayit in Hebrew), usually consumed in oil form
- Dates (tamar or d'vash in Hebrew)
Working in teams, the students research the species and create a booth ala the Science Fair where they educate our younger students about their item. Each team creates a series of activities designed to transmit factual information in creative ways. Some groups create tastings, others create science projects, one has the students plant parsley to grow for use in the congregational Seder and others plant flowers for local nursing homes to be delivered on the congregation’s Mitzvah Day. There are art projects, singing contests and of course, lots of snacking. We emphasize the Hebrew terms for each species using it as yet another opportunity to expand our students’ Hebrew awareness.
This program is merely a template but has served us well in helping transmit the values of the holiday in a creative forum that goes beyond the Tu B’shvat seder and clearly could compliment one.