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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