Wednesday, January 19th, 2011...12:00 am

The Jewish Holiday of Tu B’Shevat – The New Year for Trees

Today is “Tu Be Shvat” The New Year for Tree in the Jewish Calendar by Ari Hahn

Today is a holiday that is celebrated by Jewish people around the world and especially in Israel. The holiday is The New Year for Trees, called Tu B’ Shevat.

The Dan Nature Preserve in December by Dara

Date Palm Phoenix dactylifera by Dara

The name Tu B’ Shevat tells people that this New Year of the Trees is celebrated on the 15th (Tu) day of the Hebrew month called Shevat. It comes on different dates in the Western calendar but always around Jan. or Feb. when spring starts in Israel. The holiday is very old, the oldest description of the celebration was said to be written in the 16th century.

Pomegranite Punica granatum by Dara

Some people plant trees on this day.

Cactus with prickly pear fruit or sabra fruit Opuntia ficus-Indica by Dara

Another custom is to eat a new fruit on this day: a fruit which one has not eaten that entire season. Some people eat fruits from the Seven Species of plants described in the Bible as being abundant in the land of Israel. The Seven Species are: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8) Because Tu in Hebrew means 15, some people say one should eat 15 fruits that day. Other fruits some have added to the list of fruits to be eaten include citrons, apples, pears, carobs, almonds and walnuts.

So some people make a special feast on this day serving the fruits from the trees or plants.*

This holiday, like Arbor Day in the US, is important for the environment and ties in with UN’s declaration that 2011 is the International Year of Forests.

There is a Rip Van Winkle type of story that is told on Tu B’ Shevat about a man named Honi

Long ago, there lived a man named Honi. One day he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi said to him: “Foolish man, do you think you will live to eat and enjoy the fruit of the tree you plant today? It will not bear fruit for many, many years.”

The old man replied: “I found trees in the world when I was born. My grandparents planted them for me. Now I am planting for my grandchildren.”

Honi sat down in the shade of a nearby tree to take a short nap. But his short nap lasted 70 years! When he awoke, he was surprised to see a full-grown carob tree where the old man had planted a seed just before Honi fell asleep. An elderly man was picking its fruit. “Are you the man who planted this tree?” asked Honi.

“No,” replied the man. “My grandfather planted it for me.” And so Honi learned the importance of planting seeds for future generations.

*You can make a nice vegetarian pilaf from the seven species, a bed of cooked bulgar wheat or wheat berries and barley, topped with figs, dates, raisins (grapes), and pomegranate seeds, served with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar (grapes) and pomegranate juice.

Another recipe suggestion is Persian Orange Barley for four

1 cup regular pearl barley

3 cups water

1/2 cup chopped pitted dates

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

3 tablespoons orange marmalade

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup slivered toasted almonds

In a medium saucepan bring the barley and the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered for 45 minutes until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Coat a large skillet with nonstick spray. Cook and stir dates, apricots and marmalade over medium heat for three minutes. Blend in cumin, salt and pepper and simmer for two minutes longer. Stir in cooked barley and almonds. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until warmed through.

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