Tu B’Shvat: Strong Roots Ensure a Blossoming Future
Thousands of Israelis participated in the Yachad Program for Jewish Identity Tu B’Shvat projects in communities across Israel, ranging from ecological education and environmental protection projects to parenting workshops and study sessions utilizing Jewish sources to explore concepts of personal and national growth, and to bring together Israelis from across the religious, socioeconomic and generational spectrums.
“Here in Israel, regardless of where someone falls on the religious spectrum, the land and country of Israel is part of their Jewish-Israeli heritage and is therefore something that everyone can relate to,” explains Chernet Varkow, Jewish Cultural Facilitator of Haifa for OTS’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity. Varkow teamed up with a guide from the Jewish National Fund to bring local youth on a tour of their surroundings, interspersed with interactive outdoor games, in honor of Tu B’Shvat. “What better way to excite our youth about their heritage than by bringing them into nature to explore Eretz Yisrael?”
Tu B’shvat naturally lends itself to connecting Israelis to their Jewish heritage. Celebrated on the 15th of the Jewish month of Shvat, it marks the season when the first fruit trees bloom in Israel. It is customary to eat fruit, particularly those associated with the Land of Israel, and to reflect on our relationship to the land and connection to nature.
Unlike Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Pesach, or other Jewish festivals which have many associated rituals, Tu B’shvat lends itself to creativity. It offered an opportunity for Yachad’s 34 facilitators across Israel to develop innovative programs that brought thousands of Israelis out to sing, celebrate and learn about their shared national heritage.
“Tu B’shvat is a Jewish holiday that is also uniquely Israeli,” states Yachad director Rabbi Shay Nave. “That enables us to connect people to Jewish heritage and to Israel while also doing what Yachad does best – building strong, cohesive communities based on shared Jewish values.”
Connecting People of all Ages to their Jewish and Israeli Identity
Among Yachad’s primary objectives is to create programming that is comfortable for everyone from across the Jewish spectrum, while providing Jewish content and connection for those who identify as secular and aren’t comfortable in a synagogue setting. Diverse program offerings in 80 communities from the Golan Heights down to Eilat did just that.
In Pardes Chana, Yachad attracted the entire community spectrum to a Tu B’shvat themed performance featuring Israeli singer Dori Ben Zeev, actress Noa Koler and film writer Ramah Burshtein, culminating in a Tu B’Shvat seder where parents and children enjoyed the fruits of Israel, sang songs and discussed themes related to our connection with nature.
Further north in Midgal HaEmek, Yachad facilitator Shirel Varshinin’s Tu B’Shvat seder also engaged tens of participants who define themselves as secular or unaffiliated. “Tu B’shvat really offers a wonderful opportunity to connect to Israeli and Jewish identity in a way that’s very comfortable for people who don’t usually observe traditional Jewish rituals,” affirms Varshinin. “Seder participants said the blessings over the different fruits, learned about the uniqueness of the shmita year, and sang together in true harmony – pun intended.”
A Strong Feeling of Togetherness
In north Tel Aviv, a community characterized by staunch secularism, Yachad facilitators coordinated programs for different groups: a family event with activities for young children; an online program for people who were sick, in quarantine or in isolation; and a special Tu B’Shvat evening geared toward young adults.
Neighboring Ramat Gan features a more diverse community, including native Israelis and new immigrants from all across the religious spectrum. “Many of the participants said that this year’s Tu B’shvat program was among the best they had attended,” recounts facilitator Uri Weill. “One participant told me that there the beautiful sense of community he felt as we all sang together brought tears to his eyes. ‘This is what our country could and should be,’ he told me.”
Weill continues: “There was really warm and festive atmosphere, proud yet noncoercive Jewish content, and a powerful, tangible feeling of togetherness – which is the true meaning of the word ‘Yachad.'”