In my neck of the country, it was 64 degrees outside on January 2. On January 3, eight inches of snow fell. This extreme temperature fluctuation meant the precipitation began as rain, quickly turned to ice, and then topped off with heavy, rapid snowfall. The result? My darling, gorgeous, decades-old eastern redbud split in half under the weight of it all.
Here’s the thing about the eastern redbud: She’s understated for most of the year. Not a particularly tall tree, mine topped out at maybe 20 feet. Its branches are sort of twisted and widespread, almost bonsai-ish. Unremarkable green leaves, tons of twigs, just your standard… tree.
But in the early spring? She’s a goddamn showstopper. First, and sort of suddenly, each twig becomes laden with teeny tiny buds. Even the bark of the trunk swells with these buds. Then like clockwork, one day I wake up, look out the window, and every tiny bud has bloomed at the same time. My quiet little tree is suddenly the loudest on the street, a deep and bright pink that can only be described as miraculous. That girl is on fire.
The science is clear that extreme weather and climate events are increasing in frequency. Floods and fires and freezes, oh my. My beloved redbud succumbed. But we don’t have to. We can’t.
Jewish tradition has always held nature with a special reverence. From the first chapters of Genesis, we learn that God perfected nature, filled it with every kind of seed-bearing plant, before he even started creating humans. Later in the Torah, God warns that, even in times of war, soldiers were not to harm an enemy’s fruit trees. “Are the trees of the field human, to withdraw before you into the besieged city?”
Our responsibility to revere and protect nature is nowhere more apparent than the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, which begins at sundown on January 16 this year. Tu Bishvat acts as the ceremonial birthday for all trees. The date was traditionally important for farmers to mark the ages of various crops, but in modern times, Tu Bishvat is a critical inflection point for Jews to commit to fighting climate change and its devastating effects.
The science can be overwhelming, and course-correcting will certainly require meaningful change from the top. But we are not helpless. This Tu Bishvat, how can your family enact positive change? Here are some of the ways I’m thinking about:
- Plant something, at home or in Israel. It’s a common Jewish practice is to mark Tu Bishvat by donating money to the Jewish National Fund, earmarked for planting trees in Israel. In addition to helping the planet, planting trees in Israel can symbolize a commitment to the restoration and growth of the Jewish people. But really, you could plant anything that grows, anywhere you wish Jews to thrive – including your own yard or windowsill.
- Teach your kids about the climate crisis, in an age-appropriate way. Take a walk together to pick up litter, and use it as an opportunity to engage with your kids about the critical importance of taking care of the planet.
- Host a Tu Bishvat seder, and use the opportunity to raise money to fight climate change. Have the kids decorate the table with fruits and greenery, and encourage guests to donate to a pooled contribution to your favorite climate activism organization.
- Commit to a carbon neutral Tu Bishvat. Calculate your family’s carbon footprint with one of the many free online calculators, and then challenge your family to come up with creative ways to reduce your own emissions for Tu Bishvat.
We are not trees, unable to either withdraw or fight back. We are living breathing humans, and we can channel the fire of a redbud in the spring. And like my dearly departed redbud, we can shock the world with a transformation into the loudest and brightest advocates for healing and protecting. We can plant, we can advocate, we can educate, we can reckon, we can change. And there’s no better time than Tu Bishvat.