Below is a collection of Tu B’Shvat lesson plans, interactive tools, and articles created by The Lookstein Center staff or contributed to the site by Jewish educators.
TU B’SHVAT Holiday overview
What: Tu B’Shvat, also called “Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot” (ראש השנה לאילנות) or the “New Year of the Trees,” is one of the four “new years” established by the Rabbis of the Talmud (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1). It marks the start of Spring in Israel, when trees begin to bloom.
When: Tu B’Shvat ( ט״ו בשבט) takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat.
How: Tu B’Shvat is celebrated by eating the fruits of the land of Israel (mainly the seven species: pomegranate, olive, date, fig, grape, wheat, and barley) and learning about how to protect the Earth. Tu B’Shvat has become the unofficial “Earth Day” of Israel when ecological advancements are discussed and celebrated and there is a tradition to plant trees in Israel for Tu B’Shvat. It is also customary to eat new fruits that you have not tasted before (or have not tasted yet this year) and to say the Shehecheyanu blessing. Tu B’Shvat has also become a symbolic date for restoring the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Starting in the Middle Ages with Rabbi Isaac Luria (also known as the “Ari’zal”), the tradition of hosting a “Tu B’Shvat Seder” was born. This tradition has grown in popularity in recent years.
TU B'SHVAT VOCABULARY
|Rosh Hashana L’Ilanot||
A New Year for the Trees
ראש השנה לאילנות
|Seder Tu B’Shvat||
Tu B’Shvat ceremonial meal
סדר ט”ו בשבט
TU B'SHVAT EDUCATIONAL THEMES
- Environmental preservation
- Seeds for the future
- New hope
QUICK EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES FROM THE LOOKSTEIN CENTER
- Organize a Jewish Environmental Fair: Invite students and their families to a Tu B’Shvat fair that promotes a greener environment. Ask environmental organizations that encourage composting, recycling, gardening, etc, to exhibit. Invite a Jewish farmer or Jewish organizations like the Jewish National Fund, Neot Kedumim, and Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life to make presentations. Include a Jewish education element focusing on baal tashchit, shmittah, or tzaar baalei chaim. Be creative: include demonstrations on water-wise lawn care, organic gardening, and test drives of hybrid or electric cars. Organize craft activities that only use recycled products like puppet-making, sculpting with recycled materials, etc. Encourage carpooling/biking to the fair, and only use biodegradable, recycled products for food and drink.
- Reduce your school’s carbon footprint/environmental impact: Brainstorm with your students ten ways in which your Jewish school can reduce its environmental impact (i.e. turning down the heat, leaving the lights off, decreasing photocopying, encouraging carpooling, etc.). Divide the class into groups and assign one idea to each group. Each group should develop a marketing campaign to promote their ideas. The campaigns may include PowerPoint presentations, computer graphics, videos, etc. Then implement the best ideas
- Clean up a local forest: Contact your local parks authority and ask if your class can volunteer to pick up rubbish and clean a local park/forest. Before the cleanup, learn about Tu B’Shvat with your students and explain that this is the day we honor the trees and the environment.
- Film a Short Documentary about Judaism and the Environment: Explain to your class that you are going to be filming a documentary about Judaism and the environment. Let them decide the focus but make sure it is a narrow enough topic to cover in a short documentary. Identify individuals in the community who are experts on the topic (parks/recycling authority professionals, academics, journalists) and who will agree to be interviewed by your students. In class, write up interview questions. Students should film the interviews and take local footage that highlights the problem. Watch the interviews with the students and identify topics that relate to Judaism, for instance: ba’al tashchit (wasteful destruction), tzaar baalei chaim (avoiding cruelty to animals), etc. Study the chosen text/s with the students and lead a discussion on how that relates to your documentary topic. Students should write up a short dvar torah on the topic. Presentations of divrei torah should also be filmed. Students weave together the interviews and the divrei torah to create a brief documentary. Arrange a screening for the school/parents. Note: standard phone cameras can be used – there is no need for expensive video equipment.
- Organize an Environmentally-Friendly Shabbat meal/Shabbaton the Week Before Tu B’Shvat: Try to make the event as environmentally-friendly as possible: Issue email invitations to the event, use locally grown produce to make the meals, use biodegradable goods and arrange learning activities that explain how the Torah views the environment. Plan a kumzitz (sing-along) that includes songs about trees, responsibility, etc.
- Play Tu B’shvat Charades: Some ideas: tree, forest, plant, grow, seven species, rain, food chain, global warming, landfill, carbon footprint, protect, Greenpeace. Try playing the same game in Hebrew.
- Hike in Hebrew: Organize a hike for your students. While hiking, try to keep a conversation going in Hebrew, discussing either the hike itself or the holiday of Tu B’shvat. Some helpful vocabulary: eytz עץ (tree), yom huledet יום הולדת (birthday), shemesh שמש (sun), avir אוויר (air), geshem גשם (rain), aviv אביב (spring), mayim מים (water), desheh דשה (grass), chitah חיטה (wheat), se’orah שעורה (barley), gefen גפן (grapes), te’enah תאנה (fig), rimon רימון (pomegranate), zayit זית (olive), tamar תמר (date). You can provide vocabulary lists to the hikers.
- Get Down and Dirty: Invite a gardener or landscaper to work with your students to plant flowers/trees/bushes on your school’s property. Students should research your climate zone and see what will grow, draw up a plan, and plant on Tu B’Shvat! Invite parents to participate.
- Recycled Orchard: Highlight the importance of trees by making a colorful orchard out of recycled materials to decorate your classroom. Brainstorm with your class: what do trees provide? Answers: food, a shelter for animals, wood for building, shade from the sun, etc. Now build an orchard with recycled materials to demonstrate these uses. For example: painted, flattened cereal boxes for the ground; painted toilet paper rolls for tree trunks; green construction paper scraps for the treetops; colorful bits of tissue paper for fruits; twigs and branches to build ladders and fences. Glue the trees on the ground and the fruit on the trees. Arrange toy people picking the fruit and toy animals living in the trees.
QUICK ACTIVITIES FROM PJ LIBRARY
- Compose a short story about a tree
- Read a Tu Bshvat themed book, such as these: https://pjlibrary.org/tubshevat
- Dance to some special Tu B’Shevat songs from PJ Library Radio artists
- Try new foods and explore the Seven Species
- Plant parsley (it will be ready just in time for Passover)
- Make beautiful leaf art
- Help plant a sapling — even in the winter time!
- Learn about composting
- Sprout an avocado pit
QUICK ACTIVITIES FROM AREYVUT
- Start an environment club in your school or synagogue.
- Decorate reusable items. Brainstorm disposable items that can be easily replaced with reusable items. Choose one of the items on your list to decorate and distribute to community members or to sell as a fundraiser. Suggested items include reusable shopping bags, plastic lunch boxes, hard plastic refillable water bottles, mugs, and placemats.
- Host a “litterless” lunch. Invite students to a “litterless” lunch to be served on all recycled products. Encourage participants to bring natural foods that do not have wrappers and to think creatively as to how to prepare and transport their foods. For example, use lunch boxes instead of paper bags, containers instead of sandwich bags, and thermoses instead of drink boxes or water bottles.
- Take a trip to your local recycling plant. Bring a bin from your school or synagogue straight to the plant. Students will be able to follow their recyclables into the first steps of becoming reusable.
- Donate a tree in Israel in honor of someone special. Since your local environment benefits from trees planted all around the world, this is the perfect opportunity to help beautify and restore Israel. Encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to join in your efforts by setting up a contest to see who can donate the most trees in Israel.
- Volunteer at a local park or forest. Contact a local park ranger to find out how you can help sustain the trees in your area. Inquire whether or not you are able to help care for the trees and ask how your help may be needed to advocate on their behalf in the local community.
- Learn how to desalinate ocean water to make it fit for use. 97% of the water on Earth is ocean water, but ocean water, along with all other saltwater, is not considered fit for human use. Learn more here and consider the possible pros and cons of using a desalination system to maintain our water supply.
Simple ways to help the environment:
- Fix a leaky faucet.
- Turn off the lights when you leave the room.
- Read a book about the environment.
- Take a hike and pick up litter along the way.
- .Have a picnic at a nearby pond and clean up its shore.
- Take a trip to the local zoo or wildlife refuge.
- Purchase a tree from a local nursery and plant it in your yard.
- Make a donation to save an endangered species.
- Make a resolution to limit the use of animal products.
- Adopt a pet from your local animal shelter.
- Buy non-toxic cleaning products.
- Buy from a local farm.
- Start a compost heap.
- Take the bus to school instead of driving.
- Arrange a carpool for yourself and your friends.
- Turn off any appliances you are not using.
- Unplug your charger when it is done charging.
- Turn your thermostat up or down one degree (depending on the weather!).
- Buy a recycling bin for someone who doesn’t have one.
- Use reusable silverware, plates, and cups instead of disposable.
- Offset your carbon emissions by donating a tree in Israel.
- Replace your drafty windows and doors.
- Use tap water instead of bottled water.
LESSON PLANS AND ACTIVITIES
Tu B’Shvat Padlet – This interactive, collaborative bulletin board teaches students in elementary and middle school about customary foods eaten as part of the Tu B’Shvat seder. By The Lookstein Center.
Online Scavenger Hunt Lesson for Tu B’Shvat – This interactive slideshow teaches students in grades 3-8 about Tu B’Shvat customs and history, by The Lookstein Center.
Tu B’Shvat Seder for Young Children – A short Tu B’Shvat seder designed for three to five-year-olds that can also be adapted for lower elementary students, by The Lookstein Center.
Tu B’Shvat Ice Cream Seder – An innovative twist on the Tu B’Shvat seder by integrating it with the “International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.”
Make it Grow App – An interactive online app from Jewish Interactive which teaches students about the importance of protecting the environment.
Tu B’Shvat Seder – A printable seder for classroom use includes appropriate blessings and citations, by the OU.
Seeds of Hope – A printable seder for classroom use with a focus on Zionism, by Babaganewz.
A Tu B’Shvat Seder – An easy-to-follow seder, complete with discussion points, by the Religious Action Center.
A Tu B’Shvat Hagaddah – A comprehensive Tu B’Shvat seder outline and sourcebook which also includes activities and games, by Hazon.
TREE Source Tu B’Shvat Seders and Resources – A collection of seders, activities, and sermons for Tu B’Shvat submitted by schools and synagogues, from the JNF.
Celebrating Tu B’Shevat – This collection of resources includes stories, activities, and more, from the Israel Forever Foundation.
A Jerusalem Flower – This lesson with accompanying booklet from Olam Shalem explores the plants and flowers native to Jerusalem.
Nature and Society in Jerusalem – This lesson plan for middle school and high school students from Olam Shalem analyzes the need for green spaces in Jerusalem.
Videos and Songs
Why in the World Do We Celebrate Tu B’Shvat? – A short explanation of the holiday by Aleph Beta
Tu B’Shvat: What is a Birthday for the Trees? – An exploration of the importance of trees in Judaism by Aleph Beta
What is Tu B’Shvat? – A short explanation of the holiday by Bimbam
Tu B’Shvat Story: Honi the Circle Maker – A Tu B’Shvat story for younger students by Bimbam
If I Were a Tree Song – A fun Tu B’Shvat song for younger students
A Kid’s Guide to the Tu B’Shvat Seder! – A simple explanation of the Tu B’Shvat seder for younger students by Bimbam
Planting Parsley – A Tu B’Shvat Read Aloud Story by PJ Library for younger students
Medley of Tu B’Shvat Songs – A Hebrew compilation of Tu B’Shvat songs in Hebrew by Hop! Yaldut Yisraelit
Wisdom in Creation – This animated video from Torah Live demonstrates the connection between God and nature.
JEWISH Environmental Websites
Canfei Nesharim – This environmentalist organization’s website includes Torah-based articles and lesson plans.
Teva Learning Center: Jewish Environmental Education Institute – This organization offers a variety of seminars and hands-on programs for students about Judaism and the environment
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) – This organization works towards disaster relief, promoting land, water, and climate justice, and more.
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