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Cantor Jeff Warschauer
TJC Newsletter Article for January 2021

 

Hanukkah is past, and we are now in the midst of winter. Though things at TJC are always buzzing, it’s a relatively quiet time of the
year. Nevertheless, we look forward to one of the most interesting, yet lesser known, holidays on the Jewish calendar: The New Year of the Trees, Tu Bishvat, which begins this year on the evening of January 27, and ends the evening of January 28.

In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, Tu Bishvat (the 15th day of the month of Shvat) was the date chosen as the end of one tax year and the beginning of the next. Taxes were calculated based on the value of the previous year’s fruit. It was not until the 16th century that the Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) of Tsfat began to observe Tu Bishvat with a seder that included wine, questions, specific foods and storytelling. The Kabbalists sought to elevate the spiritual significance of this date by honoring the “four worlds” in which
we live simultaneously. The Kabbalists would eat different types of fruit, each corresponding to a different sphere – the physical world, the world of feelings and emotions, the world of the mind, and the world of spirituality. Today, many different communities celebrate this centuries-old tradition in a variety of ways. One popular custom is to drink four cups of wine or juice, with each one representing a different season of the year. Some begin with a cup of white wine or grape juice, symbolizing the barrenness of winter. Then with each cup, a little more red wine or juice is added, culminating in a full cup of red wine or juice (with just a drop of white), signifying the fullness of the fall.

In preparation for writing this article, I interviewed one of TJC’s most important and beloved members, Ziona Silverman. Among
Ziona’s many other contributions to our congregational family, Ziona is definitely TJC’s “go-to” person when it comes to Tu Bishvat.
Whenever I raise a question about TJC’s past activities around the holiday, I’m always advised, “Ask Ziona!”

So I did. I asked Ziona.

Ziona graciously put aside the time to meet with me on Zoom, and we had a lovely conversation.

I asked Ziona about the history of Tu Bishvat seders at TJC, and I learned that, aside from events for the kids, her experiences of Tu
Bishvat seders for TJC adults began during Rabbi Elkin’s tenure. Though there was a gap for a number of years, the seders resumed
during Rabbi Feldman’s z”l time with us. Along with Ziona, seders have been led and coordinated by Michele Alperin, Suzanne
Esterman, and our former member, Ellie Schweber, among others.

As we talked, what became clear was the deep spiritual and emotional connection that Ziona feels for trees.

As Ziona, in her elegant way, put it, “I love trees, because in life, and in nature, trees to me are like people. [With] people, there isn’t
anyone like anyone else. Everyone is miyuchad (unique), personally fine, wonderful, in his or her own right, and there’s nobody else like [them]. Trees [are] the same way: You look at any group of trees. Every single one is different. Every single one has a job to do. And trees are like people […] because they nourish each other. It has now been found that through the underground process of what trees do […] they will take care of each other like people do! They actually do this through their leaves, and through their groundwork, the root system.”

When I asked Ziona why Tu Bishvat seders are important, she pointed out that Tu Bishvat is an especially meaningful and creative
way to express our caring and support for each other, our love for the environment and our connection to the Land of Israel.

In these difficult times, it is more important than ever to find ways to connect with each other (just as trees do!). With that in mind, I am excited to report that TJC’s leadership, clergy and staff are planning a lively, spiritual, musical and interactive online Tu Bishvat seder later this month. Stay tuned!

May the meaning and rituals of Tu Bishvat bring a joyful hint of spring into the depths of winter. Deborah and I wish you a safe and
healthy January! 

Cantor Jeff

Think Like a Tree by Karen I. Shragg

Soak up the sun
Affirm life’s magic
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling.

From Tree Stories: A Collection of Extraordinary Encounters ed. by Warren Jacobs and Karen I. Shragg
Sunshine Press Publications
Hygiene, CO (2002)


Please contact me at cantorjeff@thejewishcenter.org, or (347) 623-4228.

 
Cantor Jeff Warschauer