Tu B’shevat: the New Year of the Trees

A few years ago, I was hosting a Tu B’shvat seder for Jewish youth in their 20s and 30s. The Idle No More movement had begun and was demanding better rights for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I was thinking about what I know of traditional Indigenous knowledge, that nature is supreme, that the number four is special (there are four seasons, colours, directions, elements) and creates the medicine wheel, and that communities are formed around the land. All of these, including the number four, are central to the holiday of Tu B’shvat, the birthday of the trees. I decided to bring together Jewish and Indigenous teachings and create a Tu B’shvat seder that was intercultural and spoke of our associations with the land traditionally as Jews, and more contemporarily as Canadians.

The next year we broadened this seder, inviting an Indigenous teacher named Kim Wheatley to co-lead and to bring in songs and other elements (such as cedar tea, maple syrup) into the seder where we were tasting the traditional fruits and nuts of the holiday. We partnered with Ve’ahavta, an organization devoted to social justice. And we filled our little space at the Borochov Centre with 80 people!

Last year we held the event with yet more partners. We joined with the Miles Nadal JCC and Shoresh, the Jewish environmental agency. Over 100 people came. We also added an element of activism, signing a petition to clean up Grassy Narrows which has suffered the effects of mercury poisoning due to industry and has been ignored by governments.

This is my favourite event of the whole year. It is soulful, meaningful, and beautiful. The seder touches on every sense: we notice the colour of wine/grape juice, we smell, feel and taste the fruits, we hear beautiful music and Indigenous drumming. We are hosting this event once more and I really hope you’ll be there to experience it. The themes of social justice and caring for the earth, the intercultural connections, and the partnerships all coalesce to make this a program that exemplifies what Oraynu is all about. See you there!

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Happy 2018! It’s not too late to set some resolutions…

We celebrated Rosh Hashanah back in September, but most of us also mark this time of year. Given that we have two “New Years” (more even, there are actually four in the Jewish calendar, the next being Tu B’shvat, the New Year of the trees), it’s useful to pause and reflect. Did you commit yourself to any goals at Rosh Hashanah that need attention now? How have the last few months been? And what are you seeking in the months ahead?

Some of you might be setting resolutions. Others might shrug the tradition off. There are other ways I’ve been exploring this year. Check out the work of http://www.susannahconway.com/ who has a New Year’s workbook or, if that’s too much to take on, a little challenge to find one word that will be your anchor this year. Words she suggests might work for you are: presence, mindfulness, hope, peace, rest, joy, laughter, strength. Is there a word that you hope will be thematic for you in 2018?

You might be more interested in asking yourself some questions for reflection. These ones are useful: https://nosidebar.com/intentionally/

As Jews, it might be interesting to consider whether our worldview, our goals/resolutions, and our way of being in the world is inflected and informed by Jewish values and experience.

Do you have any resolutions centred around Judaism for this year? Here are some ideas:

-Learn something new about Judaism

-Research a historical period/place and how Jews lived. For example, what was life like for Jews living in the Ottoman Empire? Or Jews in China?

-Start a new Jewish practice: light Shabbat candles each week, start doing Havdallah on a monthly basis (there are Humanistic ways to do these rituals), celebrate a holiday you’ve never celebrated before with your family

-Attend a, or attend more often a, Jewish-themed film, speaker, book talk, etc

-Do some text study online or in a group. Torah, Tanakh, Talmud, even Kabbalah…

Sometimes a year is too daunting to consider. Perhaps we can commit to one Jewish value/idea to inspire us and work on per month. Here’s an example (you can sub in your own Jewish values if you wish):

January – tzedakah (charity/justice)

February – chesed (loving kindness)

March – hochma (wisdom)

April – yetzira (creativity)

May – rachamim (compassion)

June – sameach (joy)

July – seder (organization and order)

August – Tiferet (balance)

September – rodef shalom (pursue peace)

October – achrayut (social responsibility)

November -hakarat hatov (gratitude)

December – ahava (love)

If you’d like to ask me about Jewish sources or insights into any of these concepts, please drop me a line! I’d love to chat.

The new year ahead is like freshly fallen snow (of which we’ve had plenty!): somehow pure, a little bit like a blank canvas, something inviting us to muck it up and make our tracks all through it. No one’s year will be perfect or pristine. But I hope all of us experience adventure and laughter, joy and peace, health and happiness.

Happy 2018! Let’s make this a great year, together.