How to Plan a Tu BiSh'vat Seder

January 24, 2017Resa Davids

Everyone loves to participate in a Pesach seder. In fact, this is the single most observed tradition by Jews all over the world. Four cups of wine puts everyone in a great mood. Reading the Haggadah and participating in discussion about the Exodus as well as about “related” topics, from feminism to chocolate, flow easily.

But did you know that there is an opportunity to celebrate a different seder about two months earlier? We still get to enjoy four cups of wine, but the discussion weaves around an entirely different topic. This seder occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which translates as Tu BiSh’vat. The holiday is also called Rosh HaShanah La’llanot, which means the New Year of the Trees. In Israel, the day is observed as an ecological awareness day. Trees are planted and a special Seder is observed. 

The sisterhood of University Synagogue in Los Angeles, CA, has a tradition of holding a Tu BiSh’vat seder immediately following the regular morning board meeting closest to the date of this holiday.

One highlight of the seder is seeing and tasting the interesting and sometimes exotic array of fruits and nuts that our ritual committee assembles for our seder plates.The four cups of wine represent the four seasons of the year: Spring is represented by all white wine, winter is represented by pink wine (achieved by mixing white with a little red), summer is represented by light red wine, and fall is represented by all red wine. The foods eaten during the Hagaddah liturgy are fruits and nuts of three different kinds: those that have hard outer shells with edible insides (almonds, bananas, citrus, pomegranates, pistachios, and carob); those that have inedible pits (olives, dates, peaches, and plums); and those that are entirely edible (figs, seedless grapes, and strawberries). We charge only a minimal fee to cover the cost of the ritual fruits, nuts, wines, and juices that we provide.

Finally, we conclude the seder with a dairy potluck lunch. We use an online form to ask people to sign up to bring food items such as kugel, bagels, devilled eggs, tuna salad, etc., to make sure that we have a nice variety of foods.

Each year we choose a different theme for our seder, e.g. youth/NFTY or social justice. This year, our theme will focus on Israel and the Jewish National Fund (JNF). We edited the Hagaddah available through the JNF in order to make it particularly relevant to our sisterhood, and we invited the associate director of our regional JNF office to speak at the seder. The reservation for the event gives each participant the opportunity to pay $18 for a tree to be planted in Israel. Following the devastating fires both in Israel and in Southern California, it is appropriate that we celebrate Tu BiSh’vat by discussing trees and ecology.

If you are interested in holding a Tu BiSh’vat seder, numerous online resources can help. Here are some that I've used:

Share your Tu BiSh’vat Seder ideas to inspire others to celebrate the New Year of the Trees and to add a Tu BiSh’vat seder to their sisterhood’s calendar of events.

This post originally appeared in a WRJ email to its membership.

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