2015-01-21 / Voice at the Shore

Local Tu B’Shevat Seders celebrate holiday with wine, fruit, and fun

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore correspondent

Tu B’Shevat is often thought of as Israel’s Arbor Day. Many of us remember it as a time for making donations to plant trees in Israel. But how many among us have gone to a Tu B’Shevat Seder—or really know what it’s all about?

This is the year to find out: Two local synagogues— Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor, and Temple Beth Shalom in Brigantine—are offering Tu B’Shevat Seders that are open to the entire community. Both involve drinking wine (four cups, just like Passover) while eating a wide variety of fruits and nuts and savory spices.

“What’s kind of fun is that you have all of these fruits and nuts all over the table, and people are scrambling to eat the right foods—figuring out which food to eat and why,” said Rabbi Gerald Fox of Temple Beth Shalom, which started its annual Tu B’Shevat Seder five years ago.

Although Tu B’Shevat may be considered to be Israel’s Arbor Day, the holiday is actually far older than the State of Israel. According to the Talmud, it is the New Year for trees—which shows just how important trees and the environment are in Judaism.

“Throughout our tradition, trees are viewed as life-giving, starting with the tree of life,” said Fox. “We have taken that metaphor into the real world with the greening of Israel. It should be a central part of most Jews’ understanding that we have an obligation to make the world a greener, better place.”

The tradition of holding a Tu B’Shevat Seder is also much older than the State of Israel, noted Fox. “The Tu B’Shevat Seder is a Kabbalistic tradition created in the 16th century.” And as with Passover Seders, there are myriad approaches (and hagaddot) for the Tu B’Shevat Seder.

Temple Beth Shalom’s Seder—on Friday, February 6, starting at 6:30 p.m.—lasts about half an hour and is followed by a Shabbat dinner. This year’s Seder will feature Community Israel Director Yuval Shefi, who will talk about the environment in Israel. The cost is $18 per person. To make a reservation (required by February 2) call the Temple office at (609) 266-0403.

Congregation Beth Judah’s Tu B’Shevat Seder, a culinary adventure featuring tapas and wine tastings, takes place Saturday, February 7, starting at 7 p.m., and costs $36 per person. For more information, contact Karen at (609) 822-7116, extension 101. .

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