Jewish Birthday of the Trees is the First Birthday for a leading sustainable synagogue
February 8, 2009:
This year, the Jewish celebration of "Tu B'Shvat," the “re-birthday of the trees” falls from the evening of Sunday, February 8th to Monday, February 9th.
In Illinois, USA, one leading reconstructionist congregation will be celebrating both the re-birthday of the trees, and the first birthday of the sustainable re-construction of their own synagogue.
In 1998 the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) of Evanston, IL, realized their building needed drastic repairs, and after an in-depth investigation of options it was realized that the most appropriate solution was to tear it down and rebuild.
The $10 million dollar building includes 96 percent of the old building, recycled or reclaimed.
• Insulation is thick, and contains fiberglass recycled from glass jars.
• The outside siding is cypress reclaimed from barns in upstate New York.
• When it was realized that eighteen caissons, or underground pillars were needed, and that this is a number that in Hebrew is written with the words that spell “life”, the religious school voted on the 18 attributes defining Judaism at JRC, and these were written on pieces of paper deposited into the concrete.
• The roof has a white reflective surface to decrease the airconditioning load.
• The gardens are planted with native and draft-tolerant (and beautiful) plant species.
• The parking lot is lit by photo-voltaic lights.
For more details, a virtual tour – and for many inspiring ideas for your own buildings, - please go to the JRC website
Here, from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Centre, is an explanation of the history of Tu B'Shavat, which lies at the full moon of the midwinter Jewish month of Sh'vat.
“Wouldn't it seem strange if you heard that mystics had transformed April 15, Income Tax Day, into a festival for celebration of God's reemergence?
Yet that is what the Kabbalists of Safed did in the sixteenth century when they recreated Tu B'Shvat.
Tu B'Shvat, the full moon of mid-winter, had been important only in Holy Temple days, in the calendar of tithing. It was the end of the "fiscal year" for trees. Fruit that appeared before that date was taxed for the previous year; fruit that appeared later, for the following year.
The Talmud called this legal date the "New Year for Trees."
But the Kabbalists saw it as the New Year for the Tree of Life itself - for God's Own Self, for the Tree Whose roots are in Heaven and Whose fruit is the world itself and all God's creatures.
To honor the reawakening of trees and of that Tree in deep mid-winter, they created a mystical Seder that honors the Four Worlds of Acting, Relating, Knowing, and Being.
These Four Worlds were enacted with four cups of wine or grape juice and four courses of nuts and fruit. The fruit moved from less permeable to more permeable.
1. To represent Acting, those fruits with tough shells and soft, edible insides e.g. walnuts were chosen.
2. For Relating, fruits with soft outsides and hard insides e.g. peaches were chosen.
3. For Knowing, those that are soft and edible all the way through e.g. figs were chosen.
4. And to represent Being, fruits are chosen that are so "permeable" they are not tangible at all and exist only on the plane of Spirit.
The symbolic system of this Seder held still deeper riches: echoes of generation and regeneration in the worlds of plants and animals.
Nuts and fruit, the rebirthing aspects of a plant's life-cycle, are the only foods that require no death, not even the death of a plant. Our living trees send forth their fruit and seeds in such profusion that they overflow beyond the needs of the next generation.
[The Kabbalists of Safed] saw that God's shefa, or abundance, would keep flowing only if a portion of it were returned as rent to God, the Owner of all land and all abundance.
And who were God's rent collectors? The poor and the landless, including those priestly celebrants and teachers who owned no piece of earth and whose earthly task was to teach and celebrate.
These mystics saw a deep significance in giving. They said that to eat without blessing the Tree was robbery; to eat without feeding others was even worse! Because without blessing and sharing, the flow of abundance would choke and stop.
Today the trees of the world are in danger; the poor of the world are in need; the teachers and celebrants of the world are at risk.
So Tu B'Shvat must continue to be a time for teachers and celebrants to celebrate through the life-giving sacred meal of rebirth for the Tree of Life, God's Own Self."
This history of Tu B’Shvat has been adapted and condensed from an email sent out by Rabbi Waskow. For more details or to join the list contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For thoughts on using the festival of Tu B¹Shvat to energize advocacy for policy change in
the US, see the end of this article on The Shalom Center's website.
Essays on Tu B¹Shvat as an eco-healing
More Jewish news about the environment.
Jewish quotations on faith and nature.
Shalom Center website.