Tree Hugging on ‘Jewish Earth Day,’ from Philly to Israel

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Tree Did you know that in Israel, trees are considered so precious that you need a permit to chop one down, even if it’s on your own property? It’s true: Jews are natural born tree huggers.
And just as we celebrate Arbor Day in America, Judaism has the holiday of Tu B’Shevat. Known as “Festival of the Trees,” the holiday, which this year falls on Feb. 10, is celebrated as a sort of Jewish Earth Day, with Tu B’Shevat seders and tree plantings — the latter of which looms large in Jewish tradition.

Planting a tree signifies hope, since it represents the optimism that future generations will live to see that tree grow to maturity. “Just as my ancestors planted for me, so I will plant for my children,” says the Talmud. In fact, the Talmud says — with a ring of Sholom Aleichem-like humor — that tree planting is so important that if you’re holding a sapling and happen to see the Messiah coming, “first plant the tree, then greet the Moshiach.”

As a practical matter, modern-day Israel puts just as much emphasis on trees. Careful reforestation efforts over the past century by the Jewish National Fund have transformed deserts into farmland and even forests.

Maintaining and replacing millions of hand-planted trees requires constant care, but Israelis insist the effort is well worth it for the environmental benefits, such as improving air quality, absorbing greenhouse gases, providing shade, improving storm water control, reducing summertime air temperature through the release of water vapor and adding a cheerful dose of nature to city landscapes.

All those reasons also hold true in Philadelphia, which is why recently Philly has also made a huge commitment to planting trees. The city forestry program TreePhilly has provided more than 21,500 free trees for planting in city streets and yards, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society plants more than 1,000 trees throughout the region every year, plus trains local volunteers on tree maintenance to ensure their survival.

So for Tu B’Shevat this year, get in touch with your inner tree hugger. Sign up to become a tree tender in your community and join the movement to make our world a little greener.
Chag sameach!

Supporting Jews of All Abilities

As the mother of an autistic teenager, Gabrielle Kaplan-Meyer understands the way disabilities can pose challenges for families partaking in Jewish communal life.

“For example, Purim is loud and wonderful,” said Kaplan-Meyer, director of Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion, supported by Jewish Federation. “But from a sensory perspective, it can be overwhelming to walk into a place with that much stimulation.”

Kaplan-Meyer’s family is far from alone. According to the U.S. Census, one in five people has some kind of learning, cognitive, physical and/or developmental disability.

Mindful of the need to make Jewish communal life welcoming to people of all abilities, Whole Community Inclusion was formed to make Jewish programming accessible for families raising kids with special needs.

That includes creating sensory-friendly jkidphilly programs (like a Purim party with the noise level turned down, or with a designated “quiet space”); expanding education for synagogue leaders and early childhood educators; compiling downloadable lesson plans; and advocating on behalf of special needs families through the Jewish Disability Inclusion Consortium of Greater Philadelphia, a group which includes Jewish Federation.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), an international initiative now in its 12th year. There are many great ways to participate in Greater Philadelphia:

Learn and grow at one of nearly two dozen “JDAIM Shabbat” programs held throughout the month at synagogues across the region.

Attend an important Feb. 20 training on mental illness awareness in faith communities.
Download Whole Community Inclusion’s free coloring book for kids, which teaches when you take time to understand friends who are different from you, you are showing kindness/chesed. That is an important Jewish value.

For more about how Jewish Federation helps support inclusion for people with disabilities, visit jewishphilly.org/disabilities.

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