In honor of the upcoming holiday Tu B’Shvat, also called Rosh HaShanah La’llanot, the New Year for Trees, Milken students participated in a number of activities on campus. The holiday, which begins at sundown on Tuesday, January 30 and ends on sundown Wednesday, January 31, takes place on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat.
“Tu B’Shvat is the holiday of the trees, an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with nature and the environment,” explained Upper School Rabbi David Saiger. “The Seder presents us with the opportunity to sing, eat, and reflect together in order to kickstart the annual renewal of our connection to the natural world.”
Throughout the week, students participated in grade level seders organized by Co-Chair of the Jewish Studies Department Bill Cohen, Rabbi Saiger, and Director of Experiential Learning Lauren Miller. According to Miller, the Seders were, “designed to be a fun, lighthearted way to pause and think about how we can tread more lightly on our planet.”
A time to recognize the relationship between nature and Judaism, the holiday honors our connection and dependence on the earth. Symbolizing growth and renewal, it is celebrated by planting trees, eating fruits, and having a Tu B’Shvat Seder.
Science Research Teacher Polly Kim addressed students and revealed how her parents’ love of the outdoors influenced her commitment to preserving the environment. She noted the importance of conserving resources and repeated the refrain, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” She explained it was a time to appreciate how trees not only provide us with food, but also oxygen, shade, beauty, and habitats for animals. “We should also think about how all of life is interconnected, and our responsibility to protect the planet,” she remarked.
Abby Thurmond ’19 shared her experience planting and caring for trees while working with the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Tree People. Passionate about saving the environment, she offered to help other students get involved with the organization.
Students reflected on and recounted stories of feeling at one with nature. They ate chocolate covered raisins, dates, and pretzels —each representing one of the different species, shivat haminim—reciting a blessing before each one. Spiritual Practice Teacher Nachum Peterseil led them in lively songs.
The Beit Midrash Fellows also celebrated Tu B’Shvat with two experiential environmental field trips. On Wednesday, January 24, following their studies of bal tashschit, an ethical principle in Jewish law which commands to not destroy or waste and be stewards of the earth, they planted trees along a barren public parkway with the organization Pacoima Beautiful. The next day, the Fellows removed invasive crawfish and other species from the creek at Medea Creek Natural Park in Simi Valley with Mountains Restoration Naturalist Erik Sode. Earlier in the week, after studying a unit on the environment, the Fellows hosted a panel of experts that discussed city planning and environmental impact, social justice, and environmental degradation.
Greater ecological awareness, exploring their connections to nature, and understanding the importance of protecting our environment and the impact we have on this earth, were just a few themes that students could ponder this week during Tu B’Shvat celebrations.