Tu B’Shevat: Planting Seeds for a Healthier Future

The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat is known as the birthday or New Year of the trees. We have often marked this holiday by planting trees, and while planting a tree is a wonderful, traditional way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, for many of us the holiday has taken on broader significance as a time to work toward a healthier environment for ourselves and for future generations.

Tu B’Shevat reminds us that our responsibility for caring for the earth has always been a part of Jewish wisdom. For example, the Talmud includes a story about the sage Choni who was journeying on the road one day when he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied, “Seventy years.” Choni then further asked him, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied, "I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children."

Some say that change starts within. We are blessed with some wonderful organizations in the Bay Area that can help us develop a deeper consciousness and relate Jewishly with the environment. Urban Adamah offers programs and events for the whole family that integrate the mind, heart, and body in a Jewish context. Wilderness Torah’s programs use our Jewish traditions to nourish the connections between self, community, earth, and spirit.

Many environmentalists challenge each of us to identify tangible and manageable steps we can take in our lives that make a difference. This year, for Tu B’Shevat, might you commit to some modest change in how you live to protect the environment? You and your family could brainstorm ways that are practical and meaningful for you—or check out the Sierra Club’s ideas for living greener.

Engaging with others to address systemic change is another option for action. Perhaps you would be energized by volunteering or attending an event at a small local organization such as Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) that works to revitalize agriculture here in the Bay Area. The National Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth offer many ways to add your voice on range petitions to government and industry leaders. Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysforFuture offers opportunities to join in demonstrations and other direct efforts to encourage global action on climate issues.

There are a multitude of local, national, and international organizations focused on environmental protection and improvement. As a starting point, our latest Giving Insights identifies a set of Jewish and secular organizations working toward more sustainable food and agriculture. These organizations are supported by donors, and our team of philanthropy advisors is here to help you find groups that match your interests or to structure a grant in a way that makes the greatest difference.

At last month’s World Economic Forum, environmental activist Greta Thunberg called for more aggressive environmental action by urging leaders “to act as if you loved your children above all else.” However you choose to celebrate this time of year, take time to notice what’s going on in the natural world around us: the lengthening days and the shoots of green emerging in the wake of the rain, as you consider your part in leaving the next generation with a more fruitful world.

Michael Chertok is the Federation's Director of Philanthropy for the Peninsula and Silicon Valley.

Learn more about Federation Philanthropy Partners.

Categories: Philanthropy, Holidays


February 04, 2020