Planting Seeds: Fostering Growth
Just as Tu B’shvat focuses on the themes of growth and renewal, the Moniqe and Mordecai Katz Yachad Program for Jewish Identity helps individuals and communities grow as they develop their connection to Judaism and to one another. Across Israel, the program connects Jews of all backgrounds and perspectives to Judaism through programs that are fun and relevant and build a sense of community as participants take ownership of their Jewish identity.
“Growth requires investment; it doesn’t just happen on its own,” asserts Roi Peretz, the city of Bat Yam’s Jewish Cultural Coordinator from OTS’s Monique and Mordecai Katz Yachad Program for Jewish Identity. That was the message at a special program he ran for parents and their pre-teen and teenage children that wove the themes of Tu B’shvat into an evening addressing their connections to each other and to Jewish tradition.
“Many parents and children face struggles in their relationship,” Peretz shares. “Tu B’shvat is about growth. Just as trees need cultivation, so does the entire land of Israel, so does our country, and so do our relationships. We used Tu B’shvat, its values and traditions as a springboard for discussing ways to strengthen the parent-child relationship. In fostering these ties around the basis of Jewish values, we are strengthening the family’s interest in further connecting to Jewish tradition – together.”
“What does this teach us about our own roots?”
While Jews across Israel are familiar with Tu B’shvat, seeing it as an opportunity to eat the fruits of the Land of Israel and plant trees, few really consider the deeper meaning and values at its core. Yachad Tu B’shvat events explored these values and connected people to the relevance of Jewish tradition.
Among the highlights countrywide were Tu B’shvat seders infused with Jewish tradition, text and meaning. In Kibbutz Misgav Am, located in the Upper Galilee near the border with Lebanon, a Yachad Tu B’shvat Seder brought together people across the Jewish spectrum – from secular to religious. Over four cups of grape juice and while enjoying the fruits of the land of Israel, they read from a range of Jewish sources, both traditional and modern, exploring shared values, singing and discussing Judaism together.
“Sadly, there is so much division in Israeli society,” reflects Misgav Am’s Yachad facilitator, Tsuriel Assaf. “Yachad bridges gaps through our shared tradition. Most people think of Tu B’shvat as the ‘holiday of the trees,’ but what does that really mean? How is it relevant to our lives? What are its roots and what does this teach us about our own roots”?
At the southern tip of Israel, Yachad facilitator Edna Lowenstein was helping residents of Eilat strengthen their Jewish connection, as well.
“Tu B’shvat is about so much more than planting trees. We used the Seder as an opportunity to learn Torah – discussing the first stories about the Garden of Eden,” she shares. “Through those stories, we spoke about our connection to Israel and about personal growth. People understood that there are values steeped in Jewish tradition. Many participants shared that they had never heard some of these stories before. The recognition that Jewish values come from a rich heritage connects them further to Judaism.”
“It Belongs to All of Us.”
For many new immigrants from Russia, these programs are their first introduction to Jewish traditions. Lidia Stalmah, who runs Yachad programs for the Russian-speaking community in Haifa is seeing new faces at her programs all the time. Plays and activities in a combination of Hebrew and Russian introduced people to the holiday and to its importance in the cycle of the year and in Israel. “There has been a huge influx of immigrants in the past year. People want to learn about Jewish heritage, feel connected to Judaism and to their new home.”
Esti, a Yachad volunteer who helps organize programs in her Jerusalem neighborhood shares, “I’m not religious, but I believe there are important, universal Jewish values at the core of every holiday. I want to help people of all ages and Jewish backgrounds connect to these values and to their heritage. It belongs to all of us.”