Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tu B’Shvat is Three Weeks Away: Adapt an Ancient Jewish Green Custom to Your Curriculum

The original “Arbor Day”, Tu B’Shvat, dates back to the second century CE, when Jewish Rabbis were hard at work writing the Mishnah and developing the first ecology lesson plan by creating the “New Year for Trees”. The lesson plan was expanded in the 1600s, by the kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Luria of Safed. Together with his pupils, he began a new tradition – a Tu B’shvat Seder celebrating the fruits and trees growing in the Land of Israel. I found another ancient custom practiced in the Land of Israel, tying in with Tu B’Shvat. Following a child’s birth, a tree was planted on Tu B’Shvat. Cedar trees were planted for boys and cypress trees for girls. As each child grew so did the tree planted for him or her. The pioneers of the modern state of Israel used the same line of thinking by turning Tu B’shvat into a reason to plant trees as a way of symbolizing the rebirth of the Jewish state. The JNF – Jewish National Fund – is responsible for all tree planting in Israel. Their website reports that Israel is only one of two countries in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees. While Israel is not blessed with natural forests, hand-planting has done the trick.

Today we know that planting trees helps reduce pollution because trees filter out pollutants and help the atmosphere stock up on oxygen. So here’s an interesting way to adapt the above ancient Jewish Green custom to your classroom curriculum between now and Tu’Bshvat. How about doing a research project on the different types of trees mentioned in the Bible and how many of these tree types still stand in Israel today? Have your students find out about the benefits of each tree, the kind of soil and climate they require, the types of fruit or flowers that they yield and in what seasons. If you can, take this a step forward by seeing how many of your students have names that stand for trees and ask each one to research his/her name, including the ecological benefits of the specific tree. Let me get you started: My name is Tami, the Hebrew nickname for Tamar, which is a palm tree. Palm trees grow in tropical or warm climates. They are great for the ecology because they are susceptible to very few pests and diseases. Palm trees supply food (dates and sometimes coconuts) and oil. Palm oil can be used for cooking and making soap. In fact, back in the 1700s the English used palm oil as a medication and a hand cream.
I’ll stop here and let the Tamar in your class continue. Do you have students named Alon or Alona to research oak trees? Anyone named Oren who can look into fir trees?
Have a lot of green fun.

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