When settling in for a long, cold winter, our thoughts do not usually turn to trees and planting. When we are wrangling our kids into snow boots, scarves and hats, and trying to avoid giant slushy puddles on the corner, it is hard to imagine that one day, we will be chasing our kids with sunscreen and marveling at the abundance of produce at the farmer’s market. But that is what the Jewish calendar asks us to do at this moment, to think about the birthday of the trees and celebrate their new year.
While it is true that Tu Bishvat is based on the Israeli agricultural cycle, we want to find a modern way to give meaning to a holiday that can feel challenging in the dead of winter, especially if you live in New York City and your main interaction with trees is Central Park. We have gathered some activities and ideas that have helped our city kids to connect to Tu Bishvat, even if they can’t see the agricultural bounty the holiday celebrates.
Here are some ideas to celebrate Tu Bishvat in Brooklyn, Queens or any urban center:
1. Do some indoor planting. It is traditional to plant parsley on Tu Bishvat to use at your Passover seder. You can get parsley seeds, small pots, and soil at your local nursery, Home Depot, or even on Amazon, and you should have an abundance of greens before Passover (with a little extra time to start over if you accidentally kill it). Our kids are always so proud when they can serve parsley at the seder that they grew.
2. Take a little tour through your house and figure out ways to help protect the planet in those places. Some ideas are recycling, like using the back of a piece of paper instead of getting a new one, and saving water by turning it off while you brush your teeth. Use this moment to help your kids see the connection between the things they are doing, and the preservation of the environment. Some of our kids’ best art projects are made out of recycled materials.
3. Make a local salad. Go to the grocery store and see what fruits and veggies are marked “local” and are actually in season. In New York, this might include some root vegetables, leeks, and winter squash. Find a recipe and cook up something delicious. Most of these veggies turn sweet and soft when roasted with a little olive oil and salt. It is amazing what kids will eat when they have had a hand in cooking it…a Tu Bishvat bonus.
4. Eat the Seven Species. Celebrate Tu Bishvat connection to Israel by eating the seven plants listed in the Bible as being native and special to Israel. You can make delicious dishes featuring any of these, or you can combine them together into a Seven Species muffin.
5. Adopt a tree. Go for a walk around your neighborhood, or go to a park near you, and find a tree that you like. Take pictures of it, do crayon and paper rubbings of the bark, or explore it in any way you can. Then, go back once a month or so and see how things are different. If you see trash around “your tree,” pick it up. If you keep it up, by next Tu Bishvat, you and your family will witness a whole cycle of the tree.
6. Do a quick Tu Bishvat seder. One tradition is to have a festive Tu Bishvat meal, connecting fruits to various qualities of human beings, the seasons, or different parts of nature. You can find a quick basic seder here, or design your own. You can invite friends and it doesn’t have to be fancy. It can certainly be done picnic style if you can’t fit everyone at the table.
We hope you have a wonderful time celebrating trees, our connection to the earth and the environment, even in the winter, even in the city. Happy Tu Bishvat!
This piece was also written in conjunction with Erin Bouchard, who is the Family Engagement Project Director at Central Synagogue in New York City. When she’s not at work, you can find Erin enjoying the outdoors. Erin, her husband and baby live in Greenwich, CT.