New Beginnings: Tu BiSh’vat and Environmental Action

February 7, 2017Lizzie Stein

In this moment of transition, we will celebrate a different kind of new beginning: Tu BiSh’vat, the new year for trees. Tu BiSh’vat is an opportunity to celebrate the earth and to recommit ourselves, for another year, to environmental action.

As humans continue to burn fossil fuels for heat and energy, clear forests, fertilize crops, store waste in landfills, raise livestock, and produce and ship industrial products, our earth changes in irrevocable ways. We are seeing a rise in global average temperatures, an increase in sea level rise, floods, droughts, famine, and disease. 2016 was the hottest year on record and the third consecutive record-breaking year. We are already feeling the effects of a changing climate, and poor and communities of color consistently bear the biggest burden of it.

It is clear that we must act. We must continue the momentum of environmental progress achieved over the past few years. These include the Paris Agreement, the Green Climate Fund, the Clean Power Plan and many others. The political moment we find ourselves in presents great uncertainty and an unfortunate reality for climate action.

The history of Tu BiSh’vat is a fascinating one, and provides insight for how we move forward in the face of adversity. Tu BiSh'vat is actually not mentioned in the Torah. According to scholars, the holiday was originally an agricultural festival, corresponding to the beginning of spring in Israel. Each year, Israelites were expected to bring one tenth of their fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. As is the case with many Jewish observances, a critical historical event served as a catalyst for the holiday. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. and the exile that followed, many Jews felt a need to preserve a connection, symbolically, to their lives before the Temple was destroyed. Tu BiSh'vat served in part to fill that spiritual need. As it was no longer possible to bring fruits to the Temple, Jews used this time each year to collect and eat a variety of fruits and nuts. The practice has become a sort of physical association with the land and a spiritual connection to brighter times.

Let us continue these connections this Tu BiSh’vat. This year, as you plant your tree, sit down for your Tu BiSh’vat seder, or spend time outside, take a moment to reconnect, physically, with the earth. The interdependence between humans and the earth is inextricable and undeniable. Our health and well-being depends on a thriving earth and it is up to us to ensure that we have clean air to breath and clean water to drink. Even today, Tu BiSh’vat can be a reminder and a link to more hopeful times. Let us rejoice in the environmental progress that we have made and take this new beginning to continue our advocacy.

To learn more about the RAC’s environmental work, please visit our website. Consider adding a social justice element to your Tu BiSh’vat celebration with one of our holiday resources

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