"Today is the full moon of Shvat -- well, it's not long after the full moon," I amended. "It's the full moon, observed." Everyone laughed. "Which makes it Tu BiShvat: the new year of the trees."
My synagogue's Tu BiShvat event was meant to happen last weekend, but we postponed it by a week because of the dire weather predictions. As it turned out, we hardly got any snow here last weekend -- I envied those south and east of us! -- but by the time we realized it was safe to be on the roads, we had already set up the phone tree to inform people of the new date. So, our Tu BiShvat event was today, and we gathered several families with young kids for a morning of activities followed by a potluck lunch.
We began by passing out apples slices and talking about apples: why we like them, why they're special, what it's like to pick them. We brainstormed the many steps in the trip these apples took from their tree to our fingers, and took a moment to be thankful for the apples, the trees, and everyone who made the apples' journey possible. Then, of course, we blessed and ate them. Mmm.
There were two kids' craft projects: making bird feeders (we talked about the animals who live in and depend on trees; the feeders will help our birds make it through the winter, and as an added bonus they're made from old soda bottles, exemplifying the value of recyling), and making family trees. (We had also planned a mock UN summit on the Brazilian rainforest, for teens and for adults, but it made more sense just to do the two workshops for the younger set.)
Then, my favorite part: the seder! We used the haggadah I posted here earlier this month. I edited a little on the fly, since our crowd was mostly smallish kids and parents (and some of the readings in there are a little heady), but I thought it went smoothly. As always, we took our mystical journey through the four worlds, drinking juices to match each world (and each season), and eating different fruits to match the first three worlds (the fourth world, essence, can't be adequately represented).
Home now, relaxing in the wake of a holiday well-celebrated, I find myself gazing out the window at the hillside behind our house, thick with the trunks and branches of bare winter trees. It's nice to think that no matter when each first sprouted, this full moon marks a new year for them, the time when -- according to tradition -- the sap starts to rise again, feeding the new year's growth.
As it turns out, one of my favorite seasonal markers coincided with Tu BiShvat this year: Ioka Valley Farm, the sugar shack nearest to our house, started to offer maple breakfasts again, as they do each year during sugaring season. I doubt they had any idea last weekend was the Jewish New Year of the Trees, but the synchronicity of it makes me smile. Today may be cold and windy, but in some deep way we've turned a corner toward the eventual coming of spring.