Judaism has a lot of holidays, some of them better known than others. Recently, we had Light Things On Fire But In A Small And Controlled Way Week (Hanukkah); in a few months is Sad Flat Carbs And Storytelling Week (Passover). Arbor Day But Make It Jewish, or Tu Bishvat, is a tree-tithing day — when Jews would set aside part of their agricultural income for God — filtered through a lens of modern environmentalism by today’s rabbis. It falls on Jan 16-17 this year.
In ancient tradition, there are four Jewish new years – Rosh Hashanah (1 Tishrei, Bureaucratic New Year), Tu Bishvat (15 Shevat, the anniversary of trees for age-counting and tithing purposes), Passover (1 Nisan, also the new year for kings), and Rosh Hashanah LaBehama (Basically Tu Bishvat, but re: animals). In ancient times, Tu Bishvat served as the day to keep track of trees’ ages: a universal birthday for tithable plants as well as a day for tithing itself. In rabbinic times, this was translated into a holiday of planting trees, eating fruits, and prayer.
As we enter the secular new year, it’s as good a time as any to evaluate our Jewish practices. After 2021, I think we’re all ready for both the low-key and the spiritually rejuvenating. Here’s a list of 22 things you can do for less than $22 (each) to mark the Jewish new year of the trees in 2022.
1. Plant a tree.
You can do this by finding a place to personally plant a tree, or by donating the funds for a tree to be planted.
2. Learn the bracha (blessing) for eating fruit.
You can find the bracha in Hebrew, with translation and transliteration in English, here.
3. Make a birdhouse.
There are so many different kinds of, and aesthetics for, birdhouses, so there’s likely to be one that fits your taste.
4. Or a bat house.
If birdhouses aren’t your thing, putting up a bat house is another way to contribute to the local ecosystem AND reduce the mosquitos in your yard.
5. Try a new fruit.
Did you know that there about 2000 different kinds of fruit?
6. Eat one of the seven species.
The seven species are a collection of specific produce items that, in ancient Israel, were tithed to the temple for the first fruits. Today, they are grown in Israel and around the world. They are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
7. Attend a trash/litter pickup around the holiday.
There may not be one near you on Tu Bishvat itself (January 17th this year), but you can celebrate by finding one close to the day.
8. Learn about recycling facilities in your area.
Depending on where you live, recycling laws, access and procedures will vary — Tu Bishvat is a great day to learn about local regulations!
9. Plant native plants.
This is another one that will vary with location, but unless you’re reading from Antarctica (which would be super *cool*), there’s likely some flora native to your area that you can plant.
10. Visit a park.
11. Go for a walk or a bike ride.
Possibly even in (or to) one of the aforementioned parks.
12. Buy or make reusable grocery bags.
Using reusable bags in a fairly lowkey way to reduce your environmental impact once you have them. Many grocery stores sell them now, or you can make your own if you sew.
13. Visit a museum or botanical garden that features local flora.
Depending on what museums are near you, this admittedly might cost more than $22, but many public gardens are free, inexpensive to visit, or have reciprocity programs with other institutions you may have memberships to.
14. Research local food sources.
Sourcing local food can be a challenge, and availability will vary wildly by geography. Tu Bishvat can be a good day to set aside some time to see if there are farmers’ markets, co-ops or other programs focusing on food access and reducing food waste.
15. Switch to paperless billing.
Part of adulting, it seems, is an endless barrage of notifications, statements, and receipts — switching to paperless where possible is a convenience as well as better for the environment.
16. Learn more about the history of Tu Bishvat.
A relatively minor and recent holiday in its current iteration (okay, recent by Jewish standards — the middle ages), Tu Bishvat has its *roots* in ancient tithing practices. Take some time to learn more about the holiday and how it evolved from a not-festival to a fruit celebration to a Jewish Arbor day.
17. Consider – and maybe even do – a Tu Bishvat seder.
Seders aren’t just for Pesach!
18. Read and discuss a Jewish text about trees, plants, and the earth.
There are many, so you could read a different text (or make a new source sheet) each Tu Bishvat.
19. Donate to a local food pantry or soup kitchen.
Many will have their most-needed items posted online, so you can check ahead of time to find out makes sense to donate.
20. Donate old clothing to a thrift store.
A (secular) new year is a great time to declutter both your closest and your carbon footprint; one way to do this is to reduce your use of fast fashion. Shopping at thrift or vintage stores instead of buying new clothes is one way — and donating or consigning helps others do the same.
21. Get a small houseplant, like a succulent.
A plant friend, but for inside. Succulents are also famously low-maintenance.
22. Learn about and calculate your carbon footprint.
There are many carbon footprint calculators that work for different circumstances. You can find a list of seven here.