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tu b’shvat


The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat (the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat) marks the New Year of the Trees. It is the holiday most connected to nature, the environment, and greening. Environmentalism is a central tenet of Judaism. Bal tashkhit ("do not destroy"), a basic ethical principle in Jewish
law rooted in the Book of Devarim or Deuteronomy, urges us to prevent waste, or to recycle. Another principle is the prohibition of causing unnecessary suffering to animals, or as it's called in Hebrew,
Tza'ar Baalei Chayim. 

In Israel, the most popular aspect of the holiday is planting trees. All over the country, schoolchildren, youth movements, new immigrants, and others plant young trees. This year, the planting has added value.  A little more than a month ago, on December 2, 2010, the worst fire in Israel's history broke out in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa, destroying five million trees and 12,500 acres of planted forest, natural woodland, and open space. The fire also killed 44 people, damaged or destroyed 250 homes, and caused the evacuation of 17,000 people. Only after four days of continuous work, did Israeli firefighters--with the assistance of the US and Canada and 16 other countries, which sent helicopters and airplanes--finally succeed in dousing the flames.

Mount Carmel is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel stretching
from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast. Archaeologists have discovered ancient wine and oil presses at various locations on the mountain. The range is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a number of
towns are located there, most notably the city of Haifa. Up to a month
ago, the Carmel area was known for its lush green forests, and we called
it "little Switzerland." 





Restoration has begun:  cutting and clearing away burned trees;  thinning conifers and planting deciduous trees to ensure proper forest development and prevention of fires;  creating and improving firebreaks around residential areas, recreation areas and bypass routes;  clearing away trees that are dead and standing, which would be fuel for future fires;  rehabilitation and improvement of scenic trails, bicycle paths and scenic lookouts;  rehabilitation and renewal of recreation areas that burned and construction of new ones for the benefit of the visiting public; revamping fire trucks and purchasing new ones suitable for the area.  All the work relies on the help of thousands of volunteers from Israel and all over the world. With their help, we hope that the beauty of the northern part of Israel will once more be renewed.

In the seventeenth century in Safed, a northern Israeli city, mystic rabbis created a Tu B’Shevat Seder, somewhat like the Passover Seder. The Seder evokes Kabbalistic themes of restoring cosmic blessing by strengthening and repairing the Tree of Life. The seven species for which Israel is praised in the Bible (figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, grapes (or raisins), wheat and barley) generally play starring roles in the Seder, along with dried fruits and nuts as well as figs, dates, raisins, and carob. It is also customary to drink four cups of wine, red, white, and rose.

A Moroccan Tu B'Shevat recipe - Stuffed Moroccan Dates by: Ginette Spier

Serves: 8

1/2 pound good quality dates
1/2 pound walnut halves
1/2 pound medium prunes

1-1/2 pounds almonds, blanched
12 ounces sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon OR 2 tbsp. orange blossom water
2 to 3 egg yolks
Food coloring

Make Filling:
Grind almonds in food processor with sugar and lemon until it forms a paste. Add yolks as necessary. Divide into thirds. Color one part red, one part green, and the third part yellow. Work color in well with hands. Set aside.

Slit tops of dates and prunes. Shape about a teaspoon of filling into a football shape to fill each date and prune. Make sandwiches of the walnut halves with the filling in between. Traditionally yellow is used for prunes, red is used for nuts, and green is used for dates.

Dip tops in sugar. Decorate with fork tines. Put in petit-fours papers.