Tu B'Shevat Lessons Take Root Jewish Holiday Teaches Kids about Charity, Environmental Preservation

Article excerpt

Winter might seem like a peculiar time to celebrate the planting of trees.

Nevertheless, one such holiday, Tu B'Shevat, exists on the Jewish calendar and is being observed today.

While the holiday, which began Friday night, is considered minor because it is not mentioned in the Torah, it still is filled with festivity and meaning.

"It is called the Jewish Arbor Day," said Rabbi Michael Remson of Congregation Beth Shalom of Naperville. "It is a holiday that goes back centuries."

The holiday's name comes from the day on which it occurs on the Hebrew calendar, the 15th of the month Shevat.

The month of Shevat falls at the start of the rainy season in Israel, the time farmers start planting their crops. In ancient times Tu B'Shevat separated one growing season from another.

Tu B'Shevat is a national holiday in Israel, a day of national pride, when school children plant new trees to reforest the Jewish state.

"In Israel the trees will start growing while there are hard rains and get a good-enough start before the summer heat," Remson said.

In warm climes outside Israel, religious school children also plant trees. But in areas where it's cold, children observe the holiday in other ways.

At Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville, for example, students learned recently that trees are valuable to Israel because of the shade and food they provide.

Fourth-graders Adrienne Karlovsky, Rebecca Donkas, Elizabeth Lato and Shoshana Frank drew a bright, multicolored picture of a large family harvesting apples, oranges and grapes.

And Sunday, primary school children at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard said blessings over and ate almonds, carob, dates, olives, oranges and other fruits native to Israel.

Students seemed to understand the lessons of the day.

"Trees provide paper products and homes for animals," said Sarah Chaney, a second-grader from Wheaton.

During a family program at the Lombard synagogue, congregants planted parsley in hopes that it will be ready for the congregation's Passover Seder. Parsley is the symbol of spring used on a Seder plate.

Wheat grass was planted, and crocuses, set into planter boxes, will be transplanted in the spring.

Later, participants went to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle where they learned how to identify trees by looking at twigs and how to pick out different species of birds. …