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Green Day

From composting and juices to photography and Cynthia Ozick, 10 inventive ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish new year for trees

Stephanie Butnick
February 06, 2012

This Wednesday is Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish holiday known as the New Year for Trees, which, regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil may or may not have seen, marks the beginning of spring in Israel. And wherever you are, there are many different ways to get inspired by the holiday.

Try a new fruit, late bloomers. One step at a time.

Test your nature knowledge. Then do it without Googling.

Have a Tu B’shevat Seder. An ancient Kabbalistic custom called for a Seder similar to the Passover meal to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, incorporating figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes, wheat, and barley—or some combination of all of them (think pilaf!)—and red and white wine. This tradition has been embraced by the Jewish student group Hillel, which offers free, downloadable materials to help you with your own DIY Tu B’Shevat Seder.

Resources for sustainable Seders abound, with most suggesting Seder hosts offer local foods and organic wine and, of course, recycle afterward. You should probably also go green—as in, paperless—with the invites.

Take a walk, and really pay attention to your surroundings. It might help to be listening to this Vox Tablet podcast about Jewish environmental activism.

Fig out. Take advantage of the nutritional benefits of the fig, Tu B’shevat’s mascot and a high-fiber source of detoxifying vitamins. Keep it healthy with these flaxseed, fig, and walnut crackers or indulge with this pecan macaroon and fig tart. Fig juice—blended, not juiced—can be tricky to make, since it’s not a particularly juicy fruit. Premade is always an option; this variety touts potassium, calcium, and iron.

Or sit back and make Ruth Reichl happy by ordering a jar of Fig and Olive Spread from online gourmanderie Gilt Taste. (These vegan, kosher, gluten-free coconut macaroons won’t arrive until after the holiday, but they’re probably still worth it.)

Make like a tree and compost. It’s not hard! Even urban dwellers can do it, with these new freezer bins. And you never know what might happen in your own backyard.

Go classic. Plant a tree in someone’s honor or in memory of a loved one, or gift a tree to be planted. Trees are, after all, the gift that keeps on giving.

Walk through Tal Schochat’s paradisiacal forest. The Israeli photographer shoots single trees against black backdrops, to stunning effect. Or what The New Yorker called “a set designer’s version of Eden—extravagantly bountiful but oddly unnatural.”

Read The Pagan Rabbi, Cynthia Ozick’s 1971 book of short stories, including the title story, in which a rabbi gets a little too intimate with nature.

See the film Tree of Life. Or don’t. For what it’s worth, Brad Pitt probably loves nature.

Happy Birthday, trees!

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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