If you are a Hebrew School teacher, then every winter you teach your students about Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the trees. For those of us who live in a cold winter climate, it is a nice break to learn about this holiday and think about green trees and the warm weather that we are missing.
Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the trees is like our Arbor Day. It falls on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shevat. On the Gregorian calendar, it falls sometime between mid January and early February. It is the perfect time to plant trees in Israel, because it is spring there and fruit is beginning to grow on the trees, and new trees are also being planted. Therefore, it is a tradition to plant a tree in Israel to celebrate this holiday.
Observant Jews have a Tu B'Shvat seder, which is much like a Passover seder. Along with four different colors wine, you eat fifteen different kinds of fruit, some which are grown in Israel. There are also blessings to be said and songs to sing, just like Passover.
Projects for Celebrating Tu B'Shevat
As a Hebrew School teacher, you be given materials for celebrating Tu B'Shevat, but you will most certainly need to augment them. One way is to discuss why trees are important not just in Israel, but all around the world. Make a list of all the things trees do for us, like give us oxygen, make paper, provide us with shade and give us food to eat.
You can also talk about The Jewish National Fund, the Jewish organization that is central when celebrating Tu B'Shevat. Most Hebrew schools give out cardboard pushka boxes, similar to the metal ones we receive as kid. In these boxes the children collect coins for planting trees in Israel.
With the principal's permission, ask to send a note home to the parents asking them to have the children do special mitzvot in order to earn money. During class, the children can share what they have done to earn their Tzedakah money. The money the children bring in can be used to plant a tree in Israel in honor of the class or someone the class agrees upon.
In addition to this project, you can bring in pictures of trees that grow in Israel and see if any of those grow in your region. The children can make posters to send home with pictures they have drawn or colored in. The posters can say "Plant Trees for Tu B'Shevat" or "Plant Trees in Israel" or anything else your class comes up with.
Another Tu B'Shevat tradition is to plant parsley seeds. When the parsley is fully grown, it will be Passover. This parsley is supposed to be used for your Passover seder plate. If you have a hard time finding parsley seeds in your area of the country, then plant flower seeds. The plant can sit on the Passover table, too.
For this Jewish holiday project, you will need:
Large Styrofoam cups or a paint your own flower pot craft kit
Parsley seeds (if you cannot find any, use flower seeds instead)
Jewish stickers or stickers of plants and flowers (optional)
Newspaper to cover the table
On the Styrofoam cup, place each child's name near the top or bottom. Have them decorate the cup with decorations of their choice-trees, flowers, fruit, and Jewish symbols. Add stickers if you wish. Have each child come up one at a time to place dirt in the cup. With a pencil, poke three holes into the soil and place the seeds in. Cover up and water just a little bit. In a few days there will be sprouts and soon after that, parsley!
You can also do any other types of projects about trees to supplement your celebration. There are many craft books about using trees and ideas online that you can use. Just add the holiday component to it and turn it into something you can use in Hebrew School.
For older children, you can create flash card games using the Hebrew words for different kinds of trees and different kinds of fruit.
No lesson about any Jewish holiday, including Tu B'Shevat, would be complete without a story. Here are a few you can choose from:
Sammy Spider's First Tu B'Shevat by Sylvia A. Rouss
Grandpa and Me on Tu B'Shevat by Marji Gold-Vukson
A Seder for Tu B'Shevat by Harlene Winnik Appelman
Listen to the Trees:Jews and the Earth by Molly Cone
There are a variety of coloring pages and word searches available online that can end your lesson about Tu B'Shevat. You can even make your own word search online at discovery education.com
Using these resources you will make celebrating Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish holiday of the trees, a lot of fun for your students.