It’s Tu B’Shabbat: How to Host a Tu B’shevat Inspired Shabbat
Tu B’Shevat (the 15th of the Jewish month Shevat) is one of my favorite Jewish holidays. I remember it from my own childhood Hebrew school experience when we sang a song about growing like trees and we danced around, pretending we were funky-shaped trees. Oh, those were the days!
Now it has become my favorite holiday because it connects me with my Jewish farming heritage. We celebrate this holiday, culturally, marking the birthdate of our trees to help farmers gauge whether it is ready and ripe for picking. In addition to its practicality, Tu B’Shevat also reminds us of the significance of trees to us as humans, as a part of the ecosystem, and as one of the wisest teachers of patience and generosity. This Jewish “Arbor Day” helps our community harness our gratitude for the earth and put that appreciation into action through service projects like planting trees, tending a garden, or giving food to the hungry.
We are so lucky this year that Tu B’Shevat lands on a Friday night (February 10-11, 2017), making it Tu B’Shabbat! To make this Shabbat even more meaningful and hopefully stress-free, I’ve created a special Tu B’Shevat-themed meal full of tasty, tree-fruity recipes that you can use as a platform to discuss the wonders of this holiday. Check out the spread you can use on your Shabbos table below, sprinkled with helpful discussion questions and activity ideas for the kiddos in your life! Feel free to pick and choose items that speak to you and adapt recipes to meet the dietary needs of your family and friends.
Dried Fruit Challah
In your favorite homemade challah recipe, toss in a mixture of dried fruits to set the tone for this Shabbat. Tell your guests there’s a sweet surprise from the trees in your Challah this week. If they are confused about why, tell them it is Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees!
Discussion Questions: What is one thing you are grateful for that trees do or give us? Why?
Kid-Friendly Activity: To make this fun and visual for kids, add some birthday candles to your challah and make it like a tree birthday cake. Let the children blow out the candles and make a wish for the trees on their behalf.
Kiddush Over the Seasons
At a mystically inspired Tu B’Shevat Seder, four cups of wine or juice are served to represent the four seasons…
Winter – Full cup of white wine/juice
Spring – Mostly white wine/juice with a splash of red wine/juice
Summer – Mostly red wine/juice with a splash of white wine/juice
Fall – Full cup of red wine/juice
To incorporate this idea, give your guests an option of one of the four seasons. Or let them get a taste of each! You might simply ask each guest what their favorite season is and offer the space to share a story about why. Based on these answers, serve your guests accordingly!
Discussion Questions: What is your favorite season and why? What is your least favorite season and why? How might the changing seasons relate to the celebration of trees?
Kid-Friendly Activity: Use small, clear tasting cups and let the kids enjoy a sip of each season. This helpful for making a connection between the changing colors and tastes that blend into one another just like the blurred lines of the changing seasons.
For the following dishes, each plate will highlight a particular type of tree fruit:
Soft outside, tough inside (Examples: olives, apricots, dates, plums)
Tough outside, soft inside (Examples: pomegranate, citrus, bananas)
Soft outside and inside (Examples: grapes, figs)
Tough outside and inside (Examples: any nut like almonds, walnuts, cashews)
Enjoy tasting the wide variety of fruits while also learning from their differences to extract meaning out of our own lives!
This savory-flavored chicken dish brings in the types of fruits with a soft outside and a tough inside: olives and prunes. If you prefer a sweeter dish, this apricot-flavored chicken (<– link) recipe helps relay the same message.
Discussion Questions: Who do you know that reminds you of this fruit—soft on the outside, tough on the inside? How do they portray these characteristics? What are their strengths? Weaknesses?
Kid-Friendly Activity: Have olives (or dates, depending on what flavors they like best) with the pits in them available for kids to try. Ask them what they think of eating these types of fruits. Was it easy to eat? Challenging? Why? Let your kids brainstorm reasons for a pit to exist in a fruit (they are seeds that allow trees to grow!).
Time to balance out the savory with some sweetness, thanks to our fruits that have a tough outside and soft inside: pomegranate and orange.
Discussion Questions: Are there certain moments when you have to create a tough exterior like this fruit? Why or why not? How does a shell like a fruit’s peel become a strength or a weakness?
Kid-Friendly Activity: Teach your kids some garnishing skills while instilling the Jewish value of Bal Taschit (do not waste)! Save the peals from your pomegranate and oranges, then show your children how to make beautiful spirals that can add some decoration to your plates or cups by simply twisting the peel scraps until they stay in place. Kids can play around with the scraps and make their own art and garnishes as well!
The barley foundation of this dish gives you an opportunity to bring up the seven species of the Torah, or all the holy foods that the Torah mentions and grow in the land of Israel (wheat, barley, pomegranate, dates, figs, grapes, olives). Many of them have already been eaten, and by the end of the meal all will be fully consumed. The recipe also introduces the tough on the outside and inside tree fruit of nuts.
Discussion Questions: Can we name all of the “seven species?” Why might these species be chosen over other foods or plants? Which one do you prefer over the rest? Why?
Kid-Friendly Activity: If possible, print pictures of the seven species for kids to investigate and pair up with the actual foods on the table (i.e. challah goes with wheat; pomegranate seeds go with the pomegranate tree). You can even have a map of Israel printed for kids to color in with pictures of these seven species!
Last, but not least, the figs are on display for a heavenly dessert. Figs along with a side of freshly washed grapes of your choosing represent soft on the outside and inside tree fruit. As the meal comes to a close, let this dish be as easy as biting into a ripe fruit of this soft kind.
Discussion Questions: When do you feel most at ease? Which activities or events in your life seem to happen as smoothly as a bite through one of these types of tree fruits? Why? How?
Kid-Friendly Activity: Figs are an incredibly unique fruit aesthetically. If you are able to find whole, ripe figs, give your kids an opportunity to dissect and investigate it. Have them experiment with the stem and see if it produces any milk when it is broken off the fruit. You might also want to give them some time to “get figgy with it” and make a dance to represent this fruit, along with all the other tree fruits they tried in the meal!
I hope these recipes and ideas inspire you to set a sustainable, nutritious, and celebratory table this Shabbat. Let’s continue to be rooted in our own Jewish traditions and reach out to our community like the supportive branches that offer life and love amongst the trees.