The weather is still chilly in metro Atlanta; blooming trees, the appearance of crocus or tulips wait till early March to appear. Yet, for the Jewish community, Tu B’Shevat, the “New Year of Trees” winter holiday, offers an opportunity to engage in planting activities, along with its reminder to appreciate nature and our environment.
From nonprofit Georgia organizations such as Trees Atlanta and Jewish Climate Action Network to synagogue greening groups, there is a heightened sense of bringing their messages to the forefront with the holiday’s attention to trees and nature.
According to its website, Trees Atlanta is a nonprofit community organization that protects and improves Atlanta’s urban forest by planting, conserving and educating.
Greg Levine, co-executive director and chief program officer of Trees Atlanta, told the AJT how the organization has been holding Tu B’ Shevat planting activities since 1995, first partnered with a Jewish group called Mosaic. Planting new trees at this annual event takes place on Sundays, so that all Jewish community volunteers can attend.
This year’s Tu B’Shevat event, sponsored by Trees Atlanta, occurs at Adams Park in Southwest Atlanta Jan. 31. Because of the pandemic, Trees Atlanta has greatly reduced the number of volunteers allowed at each of its tree-planting projects.
“In a typical year, we could accept walk-ups, but because of COVID-19 safety guidelines, registration is required to participate,” said Cate Hughes, a program staff member.
A planning group led by Myrtle Lewin, Tu B’Shvat ATL, is recruiting the volunteers, largely among the Jewish community.
In addition to the annual Tu B’Shevat event, Trees Atlanta welcomes volunteers to plant trees with them every weekend while following the safety guidelines.
At The Temple, member Ruth Menter chairs the synagogue’s greening group, which she calls The Temple Green Team. As a three-term board member of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based environmental group, she became involved with The Temple’s newly formed Rothschild Social Justice Institute. One of its 11 issues addressed the environment. In a phone interview, she said The Temple has been participating in Trees Atlanta’s Tu B’Shevat plantings for the past three years. Another example of a tree planting occasion took place in 2019. To remember Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue victims, The Temple planted a red maple tree on its front lawn in memory of a congregant family’s uncle.
Joanna Kobylivker, a member of Congregation Shearith Israel, last year organized the Georgia chapter of JCAN. It is a resource for synagogues and the Jewish community to co-sponsor or support events such as the Trees of Atlanta planting and the free community Tu B’Shevat Seder, held virtually using Zoom Jan. 27.
Kobylivker connects this Jewish Arbor Day to contemporary Israel when trees are planted in celebration. “It has developed into an ecological holiday that reminds Jews of our connection to the earth and to our role as caretakers of the environment,” she said.
Executing a planned home landscape can become another way to bond with the earth.
Joe Delafuente, Jewish owner of Creative Concepts Landscape Services, started his Marietta business in 2010 after nearly a decade working in landscape design. He said he believes tree plantings not only add beauty to one’s home but can help revitalize Atlanta’s area tree canopy. Sitting outside on one’s patio or porch, or even looking out the window to a landscaped area can bring a sense of calm and relaxation, which have gained importance as COVID-19 forces many to stay indoors most of the time, he said.
Delafuente said Tu B’Shevat might be the perfect time to recognize nature and consider adding more trees and shrubs to beautify one’s home.
Spring will arrive soon with more sunshine and longer days, so during the remaining dark days ahead in the pandemic, think of how the planting of trees around the time of Tu B’Shevat can be a harbinger of brighter days to come.