Tu BiSh'vat: A Time to Celebrate Environmental Justice

January 20, 2016Rachel Landman

There are many reasons to celebrate Tu BiSh’vat this year, as this has been an exciting year for environmental justice. Tu BiSh’vat, the New Year of the Trees, is celebrated on the 15th (tu) of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat, this year falling on January 25. There are many ways to celebrate Tu BiSh’vat, including hosting a Seder or planting trees. But, before we jump into festivities, let’s take some time to reflect on the past year because as with all new years, Tu BiSh’vat offers a time to reflect on past achievements, and to construct new goals around environmental justice.

Many Reform congregations have engaged in our Greenfaith Energy Shield Program to improve sustainability in their congregations, and our Travel Justly Grant winners have implemented projects from energy conservation to community gardening.

As a country, we have made great efforts on both the national and international stage to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and protect vulnerable communities. In August, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final rule for the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from coal power plants. Through advocacy efforts of both the environmental and faith community, we successfully protected funding in the 2016 budget for the Green Climate Fund, an international fund to help vulnerable communities adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Lastly, December 2015 marked a historic step in the fight against climate change, when 196 nations gathered in Paris for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This gathering resulted in an international climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

With so much success since last Tu BiSh’vat, we are left with great momentum to continue this work. There are opportunities for more congregations to get involved in our Greenfaith partnership or donate to and apply for grants through our Travel Justly Fund, a fund established to combat the carbon impacts of travel by supporting congregational environmental programming.

The United States established itself as world leader during the UNFCCC in December and now must act on the agreement by reducing carbon emissions through initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan and supporting vulnerable communities by contributing to the Green Climate Fund. As we celebrate Tu Bi’shvat and the many achievements reached in the fight against climate change, we must take this time to reflect on and recommit to protecting our environment and those people who are most negatively impacted by climate change.

Enhance your Tu BiSh’vat celebration with resources from the Religious Action Center’s Holiday Guide. You can find a guide for your Tu BiSh’vat Seder and sample Jewish stories and texts that can be included. Additionally, there are many programs and activities that you do including, recycling and waste reduction, food justice and tree planting.

We are taught to be guardians of the earth that “It should not be believed that all the beings exist for the sake of the existence of humanity. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes, and not for the sake of something else” (Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed). Therefore, as we celebrate trees, their fruit and all of nature this Tu BiSh’vat, let us celebrate them for what they are, rather than for what they give us.

Chag Sameach! 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Mari Smith

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