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Celebrating Trees, Nature and our Animal Friends

Today is Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. The name of the festival is actually its date, the 15th of the month of Shevat. ‘Tu’, is the pronunciation of the Hebrew letters tet and vav, which stand for the number 15. In ancient times, Tu B’Shvat was a date for Jewish farmers to calculate produce taxes. In the 16th century, the kabbalists in Tzfat employed their creativity and mystic imagination to institute a joyous and unique tradition: the Tu B’Shvat Seder, using different types of fruit and four cups of wine (like on Pesach) to focus on the splendours of nature, as created by God. As the urgency of addressing climate change impacts all life on our planet, Tu B’Shvat has gained importance more recently as an opportunity to educate ourselves about human responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation.

This year we celebrate Tu B’Shvat with a completely new awareness. Approaching nearly a year of lockdown and lockdown restrictions, most of us have come to re-evaluate just how essential our relationship to nature is for our mental health and well-being. Be it our garden if we are lucky enough to have one, our local park or the forest, getting out into green spaces has played a crucial role for exercise, relaxation, boosting our Vitamin D intake and benefitting from Nature’s power to inspire, uplift and heal. In appreciation and gratitude for Nature’s loving connection to each one of us, we dedicate our Shabbat morning service this week to celebrating, not only trees, but all of nature and also our animal friends, who play such an important role in bringing joy, fun, love and well-being to us, their humans.

Furry, feathered and other animal friends are always welcome at our services - being online makes their participation much easier! This Shabbat morning we will have a special blessing to celebrate our gratitude for their companionship, and in break-out groups we will have the opportunity to share about our relationship with animals, with nature and with trees. Please invite your animal friends to join us!

On Sunday afternoon at 4pm please do join us for our online Tu B’Shvat Seder held jointly with our ECAMPS neighbours, continuing our celebration of trees and Nature with fruit, feasting and festive song. (Please check which fruit and drink you need for the Seder on the Tu B’Shvat information after my Shabbat message.) You still have time to look at the activities in the special Tu B’Shvat Activities booklet and, in the tradition of those 16th century kabbalists in Tzfat, unleash your creativity to take a photo, write a poem or just have a lot of fun getting out into nature. There are suggestions for all ages across the generations. Please upload your photos, poems or prose to our special Tu B’Shvat Virtual Gallery, kindly provided by our member David Solomon, where you can also view some of David’s own truly stunning Nature photos: . The links and details are all in the Tu B’Shvat Activities booklet, which you can also find here: .  Please email Nick Young at ELELS to give him a heads up about your photo, poem or activity so he can make time for you to share this at the Seder: .

I’m off to plant some parsley seeds – a new Tu B’Shvat tradition timed perfectly to enjoy sprouting parsley for our Passover Seder. There is little more exciting than watching seeds you have planted grow – especially during lockdown on your window sill! For all of us this year, that process of growth will have a special significance, reminding us that Nature has its own power of renewal – sustaining life on Earth and offering much-needed hope for the future.

Shabbat Shalom, Stay Safe and Be Well, and Looking forward to seeing you on Shabbat morning and at our ECAMPS Tu B’Shvat Seder on Sunday afternoon!

Rabbi Lisa