Tree-Hugging and Tu B’Shevat



February 1, 2018

Because planting trees in Utah in the middle of February is a frozen challenge, Hillel for Utah students celebrated Tu B’Shevat by making a statement through art.

Tu’B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, is celebrated in Israel and Jewish communities as an ecological awareness day. Trees are planted and the festive meal features fruits and nuts. The seven species — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — listed in the Torah and associated with the land of Israel are also incorporated into the celebration. 

“Because this holiday is about celebrating trees, we felt it was important to understand our responsibility in taking care of the trees as well as the environment in which we and the trees live in,” said Maiya Haberman, vice president for Shabbat programming and Jewish education at Hillel for Utah.

A week prior to the event, students collected single-use plastics. Israeli rap music played in the background as the students arrived at Westminster College with armfuls of empty water and soda bottles on Jan. 29.

While some students focused on creating willow and palm trees as well as cacti out of plastic, others snacked on traditional Tu B’Shevat foods, including figs, dates and other dried fruits.

“Utah’s spectacular environment draws Hillel students to the state for recreational as well as outdoor leadership opportunities,” said Dana Tumpowsky, executive director of Hillel for Utah. “We work to respond to their intrigue with the outdoors with programming that makes Judaism relevant.”

In keeping with the purpose of the New Year for the Trees, student organizers also borrowed reusable plates, cups and utensils from the Westminster College Environmental Center to minimize the waste generated from the event. The “trees” created at the event will be on display with an educational poster outside of the Environmental Center for the next two weeks.

“The environmental impacts of single-use plastics such as plastic bottles, straws, utensils and plastic packaging are devastating to ecosystems, especially in the ocean,” said Alex Bochner, vice president for outdoor programming at Hillel for Utah. “We thought blending environmental stewardship and the celebration of trees would match the focus of Hillel students in Utah.”

— Dana Tumpowsky