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I am not Jewish, but sometimes I wish I were a little bit. They have some of the best holidays. This week they celebrate Tu Bishvat. It is something of a celebration of trees and the fruit of trees. How wonderful is that?

My Jewish Learning writes: “Tu Bishvat is a holiday intimately connected to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel. Falling in the middle of the Jewish month of Shvat, the 15th day of the month [this year, 2012, that is February 8th] is the New Year of Trees. Today, this holiday is often celebrated by planting saplings and also by participating in a seder-meal that echoes the Passover seder, in which the produce of trees, including fruits and nuts, are eaten.”

As I understand it, for four years, a newly planted tree is allowed to grow without bearing fruit. (I pick the blossoms on my young fruit trees for a few years so the energy can go to the growth of the tree. This year will be my first apple harvest from one of my trees.) On the fourth year, at Tu Bishvat, the “first fruits” of the tree were taken to the temple as an offering. Subsequent years, the farmer was allowed to use the fruit of the tree for himself or to market it.

Tu Bishvat is celebrated today by having a special seder (celebration feast) in which they remember God’s bounty and their own stewardship of the Earth. In climates that allow, trees are also planted.

At the seder, four glasses of wine or grape juice are drank. The first is white, the second white, with some red added, the third is red with some white and the fourth is all red (purple) grape juice or wine. The progression represents the progression of seasons.

During the meal, they eat various fruits from trees, which are divided into three types:

• Fruits and nuts with hard, inedible exteriors and soft edible insides, such as oranges, banana, walnuts, and pistachios. Some consider oranges and other citrus as wholly edible.
• Fruits and nuts with soft exteriors, but with a hard pit inside, such as dates, apricots and olives.
• Fruit that is eaten whole, such as figs and berries.
Each fruit has meaning. For example, the third fruit “is soft throughout and is completely edible, such as figs, grapes, and raisins. This type symbolizes God’s omnipresence and our own inextricable ties with the earth.

Many people also include in the seder the seven fruits named in the Torah as grown in Israel: Wheat, Barley, Grapes, Figs, Pomegranates, Olives and Dates. (From Deut. 8:8. Honey is interpreted to refer to dates.)

Throughout the meal, prayers are offered and scriptures are read. It is very beautiful. Consider introducing your family to a bit of Jewish culture and celebrate the fruits of the earth with your dinner this February.

“For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee” (Deuteronomy 8:7-10).