Ask Miriam | How Can We Make Tu B’Shevat More Relevant?

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Dear Miriam,

Tu B’Shevat went from being completely unknown when I was a kid, to being a huge “Jewish Earth Day” celebration around the time that I became a parent. But now, in this time of climate crisis, our attention to this holiday seems hollow. How does it make sense to talk about how fruit and nuts are like personality types and to talk about mystical rabbis in ancient times when our world is burning? I don’t want to be a total downer at the Tu B’Shevat seder I’m scheduled to attend, but I also want to be realistic.


Too Worried for Tu B’Shevat

Dear Worried,

I hear you. There is a lot of scary stuff going on out there. Climate scientists don’t have much good to report, and our own Philly weather this winter has been disconcerting at best (and not only because I really want a snow day). But just like lighting Chanukah candles doesn’t actually do away with assimilation, and celebrating a Passover seder doesn’t mean that all modern slaves are free, Tu B’Shevat isn’t, unfortunately, going to fix what’s wrong with our planet. 

Judaism is full of symbolism, and some of the symbols will work better for us at certain times than at others. Sometimes Rosh Hashanah feels cleansing and amazing and like it’s truly a new beginning, and sometimes it feels like more of an obligation. Even some Shabbats are more restful than others. We bring different parts of ourselves to Jewish rituals at different times in our lives, both because of what we’re experiencing and because of what’s going on around us in the world. 

If you feel too overwhelmed to be a good participant at the Tu B’Shevat seder, you’re not required to go. (In this way, a Tu B’Shevat seder carries a very different weight than a Passover seder.) But maybe you can talk to the host in advance. Maybe you can find out what, if any, connections will be made to the current climate crisis. Maybe you can offer to provide some contemporary resources if nothing was planned to address current events.

Tu B’Shevat’s connections to mystical realms and to self-reflection can be beautiful and powerful and can give participants a fresh perspective on themselves and their connection to nature. Thinking about spring right now is probably emotionally beneficial for everyone. An afternoon of mixing colors of grape juice will not solve any environmental crises, but that, plus being in community with others, might give you renewed strength to apply to activism around climate justice. 

Regardless of how you approach the celebration you’re slated to attend, no one is wrong for however complicated or uncomplicated they see this holiday. There are many facets to all our Jewish rituals, and a minor and newly popular holiday is no exception.

Be well,



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