Celebrating Tu Bishvat in Israel seemed always very natural. On the hills leading to Jerusalem almond trees were already blooming in pink and white, the kids planted trees, and everyone snacked on bountiful dried fruit and nuts.
We cannot plant trees in Israel when we’re here, abroad (although many of you, I’m sure, got at least once in your life a certificate promising that someone planted a tree in Israel in your name), and we cannot watch the beautiful almond trees in bloom. But we can enjoy the fruits (at least the dry ones) and nuts from Israel.
That’s the idea the Kabbalists of Safed had when they came up with the Tu Bishvat seder. In the 16th century, the Kabbalists wished to renew celebration of this forgotten holiday and in their book Chemdat Yamim (and later in a separate book Pri Etz-Hadar) they described a ceremonial meal, very close to the Passover seder, to mark the holiday of Tu B’shvat. From Safed the Tu B’shvat seder spread through Jewish communities in eastern countries around Israel and all the way to the Ashkenazi communities in Europe.
And what an extravagant seder this was! I was so excited when I saw the list of no less than 30 fruits, nuts and grains included - fruits with peels and fruits with edible seeds, fruits with pits and without. The seder included prayers and reading from the bible, and many communities even had their own poems praising the land and its goods.
My head was spinning!
“If you were a real Guttman,” mumbled my husband behind his laptop “You would simply put a bowl of nuts on the tables and everyone would take a couple after dinner. That’s how we used to do it in my house.”
I have to ignore him sometimes in order to keep this family attached to its roots.
One of the most inventive parts of the Tu Bishvat seder is drinking four glasses of wine (indeed, inspired by Passover). Only this time each glass symbolizes a season of the year
A glass of white wine reminds us of the fall, when nature is asleep. A second glass of white wine with just a little red wine mixed into it is dedicated to the winter, when the first signs of bloom already appear. A third glass of half red half white reminds us of the spring, when nature awakes and the bloom is at its peak. And a full glass of red wine for summer.
“So you want to mix red and white wines and drink it?” asked the wine expert at my local liquor store.
“You will basically take red wine and pour white wine into it,” he added after a long silence, hoping he might have heard wrong.
“It’s a Jewish tradition,” I explained.
“And you’ll be drinking the red and white wines together?” He asked again. We agreed on rosé and I left the store happy.
To practice the seder at home you can follow one of the many adaptations available online - such as those from Hillel or from Aish. The Israeli embassy staff are going to hold a Tu Bishvat seder on Wednesday, following the seder that’s inspired by the Israeli education ministry (and if you read Hebrew, check it here).
You’re also allowed to come up with your own seder tradition. Gather the seven species of land of Israel, or many more, fresh and dried, as available this time of the year: fresh pomegranate and grapes and dried figs, dates, pickled olives and cakes or bread from wheat and barley. Sing all the songs you remember about trees and fruits and mother nature. Find verses from the bible that include those species. Drink 4 glasses of wine and have your kids drink red and wine grape juice.
But the best thing about Tu Bishvat are the dishes associated with it. I’m going to serve a walnut and dried cherry tabouleh salad, an almond orange braid - and a large bowl of nuts to make my husband happy.
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