HAPPY TU B’SHVAT TU YOU!
“May it be Your will, O God, who has made us responsible for the deeds of our hands, that this tree will live and grow and bear fruit in peace; May You guide us in the paths of peace and give us the insight to see Your Image in every human being Guide us all “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and help us realize that we were not brought into this world for conflict and dissension, nor hatred, jealousy, harassment or bloodshed. Rather, we were brought into this world in order to recognize You, may You be blessed forever.” (R. Nachman of Bratzlav)
Shvat is a great month, and one that’s so much fun to discuss, especially during such a rainy season. The word Shvat originated in Babylonian and Accadian, meaning “a stick” or staff, perhaps signifying the rain and storms that seem as if they’re striking the earth (as I write this, I can almost hear the loud rain pounding on our packing-house this last Wednesday, making it impossible to hear each other as we packed your boxes). The other meaning of Shvat is the delicate facet of the word, that of a branch beginning its growth anew. Thanks to the rains that have fallen and the days growing longer, the branches develop buds and begin to bloom and grow new leaves. According to tradition, the Biblical flood ended in Shvat, and the dove Noah dispatched brought back a young olive branch, taut and fresh from a newly blossoming tree.
In the middle of this month, Mishnaic scholars decided to set the start of the year for the tree’s tithe. Observing nature closely, they noticed that most of the seasonal rains have already fallen by this date. Thus, as the days grow longer and spring approaches, the trees begin to ripen as the flowers become fruit. This awakening in nature and the sweet promise it proclaims made Tu B’Shvat a day to sing about, offer special prayers and celebrate God’s abundance by rejoicing in nature. And of course, celebrations call for food, and what better meal than one consisting of fruits of the earth, its most natural confectionary?
There is something magical about eating fruit to celebrate the tree from which it grows. Biting into a luscious fruit is tasting the sweet, thirst-quenching present, but sensing the memories of its past: the rain and sun that caressed the tree, watered its roots and made the buds peek out of the branches; the wildlife who brushed against its trunk and climbed it; the birds who built nests among its branches, the bees merrily buzzing, the flies and other pollinators who hovered over its blooms, transferring pollen from flower to flower, and the ripening- that magical moment when the pollination fertilizes and a new little fetus of a fruit is created. And in the midst of all this sweetness and juice is the seed, the hard, serious heart of the light-headed, seductive fruit, in which the future lies: the next tree, its branches, leaves, flowers and fruit, the sun, winter, rain; the hammock that will be hung from its boughs, the tree house that will be built at its crown, and of course, the joyful band of wildlife that will surround it.
The stages of a nectarine’s ripening over seven-and-a-half months.
This beautiful holiday is very local and dependent on the climate of this country, and the warmth we already feel in the air. Ask the Europeans who are shivering from the cold or the North Americans attempting in vain to defrost their frozen hands in the warm glow of a very cold Valentine’s Day. Even the Mexicans, whose weather forecast varies from “hot” to “very hot” all year long, or the Thais, who move from extreme “wet” to “dry” will not understand my girls’ glee as they discover another almond tree in bloom along our route to school. This is definitely a local Israeli celebration, observed only in the beloved and thin slice of country between sea, mountain and desert. This is exactly the localness Melissa wrote about in last year’s newsletter, and because I feel it is important, I hope you don’t mind if I include it again:
Over the years, I’ve gone crazy watching the mass import of dried fruits for Tu B’Shvat. I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture for 15 years, and they like to call Tu B’Shvat “The Holiday of Agriculture.” The minister sends greetings to all the workers, and in good years we held group tree-plantings. During the (sabbatical) year of Shmita we received an ornamental plant. Last year we received a plate full of pathetic dried fruits, all imported, except for the dates (forbidden for import with pits.) I didn’t even open it, I was so disappointed.
The whole reason for dried fruits originated when Jews living in the vast Diaspora could not acquire fresh fruits from Israel, and thus made do with (very) dried Israeli fruits. In my childhood in American Jewish schools, we suffered every year with the tasteless dried fruit treat brought to us from Israel, served with Zionistic flare. We called it “the boxer,” which I know today was (“bokser” in Yiddish) a carob. What I didn’t know was how tasty it is when fresh and crispy.
And then I immigrated to Israel, where we are bombarded on Tu B’Shvat with imported dried fruits, mostly of poor quality. What value is there to eating dried fruits on Tu B’Shvat, when the whole point is to celebrate Nature’s New Year with fruit from Israel? Today, when you can acquire fresh Israeli fruit all year round, there is no reason to eat imported dry fruits! It totally negates the spirit of this holiday. The agricultural holiday? Where is our national pride? Love of our country? Support of local products and environmental values?
This Tu B’Shvat, I would like to start a public protest against the imported dried fruit regimen. Instead, let us truly support and encourage the farmers of this country who grow fresh fruits, dates and almonds, raisin products and more. So it’s time for a grass-roots (or tree-roots) effort to spring into action! What is your opinion?
With love of the land and its wonderful fruits, Melissa
This year I asked Melissa to contribute something new for our Tu B’Shvat newsletter. I wanted to hear about her philosophy of making dry fruits from her cottage industry, Mipri Yadeha. I wanted to get a glimpse into the world of those who intimately know the fruit, who wash, peel, core, slice, squeeze, mix, spice, taste, smear and dry, slice, pack and personally decorate them, with all of their heart. Handcraft is really a work that involves a lot of thinking, the kind that accompanies manual, technical work. These are some of Melissa’s musings, as always, interesting and eye-opening. From a person who yields the most from a fruit by preserving it, Melissa wrote these concise yet comprehensive words:
Melissa’s manifesto on matters of dried fruit and sundry recognize good now concentrate preserve it avoid waste and unnecessary additives less is more make the best of what you have enough is enough try new whistle while you work hum drum share always and watch your fingers count them a blessing there is nothing like nature thank the trees be fruitful in all — A joyful Tu B’Shvat, full of all the best, Alon, Bat Ami and a happy Chubeza crowd
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
In honor of Tu B’Shvat, we’ve decided to enclose some fruit of the tree: delicious avocados! Enjoy them in good health!
Monday: potatoes, fennel or daikon, green or red cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, Dutch cucumbers, sweet red peppers, lettuce, parsley, avocado
In the large box, in addition: leeks, beets, fava beans
Wednesday: lettuce, daikon or radishes, cauliflower or red cabbage or green cabbage, broccoli, parsley, red peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, celeriac or parsley root, avocadoes
In the large box, in addition: fava beans or red beets, green garlic, cilantro
TU B’SHVAT RECIPES—VEGETABLES, FRUIT, AND LOTS OF SWEETNESS