Fruit for Thought? Tu B'Shevat with TreeHugger and 92YTribeca


TreeHugger's own Matt Mcdermott teaching the green gospel of carbon footprint calculation
Photo by Bonnie H.

I've always been a big fan of holidays that celebrate food and of meeting up with my TreeHugger colleagues in person. So when the invitation came to attend a 92YTribeca- hosted Tu B’Shevat Shabbat with TreeHugger's Ken Rother and Matt McDermott as guest speakers, I couldn't resist attending.

Tu B’Shevat is a lesser well known Jewish holiday. It is usually celebrated at the end of January/early February. This year, Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, coincided with the solar calendar date of February 9 and began at sundown on February 8. The holiday is also known as the New Year for Trees. Today it is essentially the Jewish Arbor Day and many Jewish environmental organizations have adopted it as an environmental awareness and tree planting day. So it is a good time even in the middle of winter in the Northeast U.S. to celebrate the birthday of the tree and the fruits that it provides. It is a great reminder of what spring will bring. It is also a great reminder that nature exists beyond New York City, the concrete jungle that I call home.
Sustainability and 92YTribeca
92YTribeca's Rabbinic Intern Hayley Siegel welcomed the group with an inspiring introduction to the holiday and focused on how many of the traditional blessings reference appreciation of the natural world and its resources. She also stressed the Jewish concept of Baal Tashcit- making sure not to be a waste hog and Judaism’s reverence for all of the world’s creatures. Hayley also highlighted that 92YTribeca's Kosher dairy kitchen always uses the freshest and most local ingredients whenever possible.

History of Religion and Environmentalism
Ken Rother, President and COO of, went into the history of Tu B'Shevat and explained that it started as the New Year for the trees with the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. So the tree's birth date began not on day 1 of month but on day 15. Historically, fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit were donated to the priests at the temple, and after that, it was permissible to eat the fruit.
Ken also spoke about beginnings and the connection between various religions and sustainability. In Judaism, at times there appears to be a paradox: from a historical perspective humans have dominion over nature, but we are also stewards. Buddhism's philosophy takes the view that people are one with nature. Native Americans view the relationships between people and the planet as a symbiotic relationship. Whenever the Iroquois tribe made a decision, they would consider the impact on the seven following generations. The company Seventh Generation, was inspired by this concept.

Is Environmentalism/Obama a Passing Trend?
Environmentalism, conservation, and sustainability are not passing trends, they have cropped up in religions for centuries and in American politics for at least one hundred years (since Teddy Roosevelt). It is a new day for politics in the U.S. and at the same time it is the same story it has always been. Ken exhorted that for the green jobs and green wave to be sustained it is incumbent on the green movement, to move green to the center, since Obama is basically a centrist. We shouldn't be disappointed in the stimulus bill not being inspiring enough, but instead inspire each other with our individual actions.

Everyday green tips for urban dwellers
Matt McDermott then spoke to the attendees about easy and everyday tips they could use in New York City to become more environmentally conscious. First of all he congratulated them, as living in a dense urban environment (without a car) is one of the greenest things one can do. He told attendees that there are other simple things one can do, such as signing up for green power from ConEd, eating local and vegetarian food (at least once a week). Eating a vegan meal, MdCermott informed us, would save 2 tons of carbon a year. Since most food has travelled at least 1000 miles to get to your dinner plate, eating local would save carbon by reducing vehicle miles traveled.

Further actions:
Buying all organic food- saves 2 tons
Air drying your clothes- saves .33 ton of carbon a year.
Switching from incandescent to CFLs- saves .5 ton over a year.
Ken on this note, jumped in with saying that-nowadays people need to count carbon the way people count their calories.

Q&A;: Read it on paper or on the screen?
Q&A; from the audience highlighted answers to the questions of whether it is more energy efficient to read on one's computer or to print a document. Answer: If it will take you more than 30 minutes to read, you should print it (on double sided, recycled paper of course!)

The Fruit Seder and its Symbolism
The evening closed with attendees partaking in a special fruit "seder"—a tasting of new and exotic fruits unique to Tu B'Shevat. This custom was devised by the kabbalists in Safed in the 17th century, the seder is ordered to represent four different levels of existence that the mystics perceived to make up the world. Level 1 is Assiyah, the form that needs the most protection. It is represented by fruits and nuts with inedible shells such as pomegranates, grapefruits, and bananas. The second level, Yetzirah -- formation, a spiritual step up -- is represented by fruits with pits, a symbol of growth found in dates, avocados, and stone fruit. Level 3 is Briyah, creation. Its fruits are soft with no protection, representing a complete and perfected form like an idea or memory. Briyah is represented by figs, kumquats, raisins, and apples. The fourth and highest level, Atzilut, or godliness, has no fruit. It is its own nourishment and is represented by pure thoughts of loving kindness and beauty. Which is exactly how I felt after an evening filled with delicious local food and a stimulating conversation. I'll say Amen to that.

More on eating fruit, trees and spring
Community Fruit Harvesting: not far from the tree
Fallen Fruit: free produce on Los Angeles Streets
Eating local

Fruit for Thought? Tu B'Shevat with TreeHugger and 92YTribeca
I've always been a big fan of holidays that celebrate food and of meeting up with my TreeHugger colleagues in person. So when the invitation

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