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Tu B’Shvat Reflections and Beyond

Now that Tu B’Shvat has past and the Seder which my Sunday School class led is over, its time for some reflections on what went well and what could be improved upon. Following this period of reflection, it is also important to identify some ‘next steps’ as far as the direction to take my students in, as well as the direction to focus our collective efforts towards. While I feel some relief that the Tu B’Shvat seder is over and that it was a successful event for the community, there is also a feeling that the ideas discussed during the Tu B’Shvat holiday must be examined in further depth and expanded upon in the weeks to come, lest they be forgotten or relegated to the sidelines as no longer relevant.

Looking back on the Tu B’Shvat seder that my 6th grade class led this past Sunday, I feel that it was an unqualified success. My students did admirably in leading the participants in exploring some of the major themes of Tu B’Shvat. They were able to explain the 3 types of fruit eaten at a Tu B’Shvat seder, taught participants about the 7 species of Israel, led blessings over the fruits, and discussed various biblical passages that reference the fruits being served. Perhaps most importantly, many types of delicious fruits were eaten by the seder’s participants, connecting these somewhat theoretical themes with the very concrete action of eating. I think that even if all the lessons taught during the seder are forgotten, the joy of eating fruits on Tu B’Shvat will be a positive experience that the participants will remember for a long time. This type of experiential learning is an important aspect of all true education, for it allows participants to personally connect their learning to the real world.

Experiential learning activities like seders and gardening are at the core of my teaching philosophy. I am now faced with the question of how to continue these types of activities now that Tu B’Shvat has passed and the weather is not yet warm enough to begin our gardening projects. One idea came from a parent, who offered to lead a cooking workshop in the synagogue’s kitchen. We discussed the ideas of making an Israeli salad or making a spice blend with the students. These projects will continue the experiential aspect of the curriculum, building skills and teamwork for the students while connecting them to the foods they eat within a Jewish framework. Another possible experiential learning activity would be to start a compost bin in the classroom as a demonstration of the principle Bal Tashchit. The compost we make could then by spread on the garden in the spring. I also plan on teaching a lesson on Tzar Baalei Chayim, and could make this lesson more experiential by inviting a guest speaker from a local animal shelter, or by taking a field trip to an animal shelter.

These are some of the ideas I have been considering as post-Tu B’Shvat ‘next steps’ to provide some interactive lessons to my students in these still-too-cold-to-garden weeks. My hope is that by the end of the year, the students will see caring for the earth and the creatures upon it as a Jewish mandate. They will understand that every choice they make and every action they undertake has larger implications for the world as a whole, and they will therefore endeavor to conduct themselves in a way that brings blessings and healing into the world.

In these times of environmental upheaval, it seems hardly a day goes by without new revelations of poisons in our food, water, and air and reports of habitat destruction and species being pushed to extinction. In the face of such tremendous pressures, it is all the more important for youth to understand the implications of the choices they make and the great responsibilities resting on their shoulders. It is only with a firm understanding of who they are and what is expected of them that they can then work toward repairing these many problems. Just as the hard pits of some fruits at the Tu B’Shvat seder are often cast off as useless, a deeper understanding recognizes the possibilities for regeneration inherent in these pits. Rather than cast them off as useless, a wise person nurtures them to grow into a whole new life. It is my hope to plant these pits of understanding within the student’s minds, and with proper care, these ideas will grow into trees of Life, Light, Justice and Righteousness.

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