I’ve said many times that I will embrace any food challenge, and I always learn something from my adventures. Recently, however, my lessons went beyond the culinary into the spiritual when I was invited to participate in a “Chopped”-style cooking event for Tu Bishvat, a Jewish celebration that I had never even heard of.
My husband, Les, has been a member of our city’s temple since he relocated here in 2002, and though I’ve attended various services with him—mostly the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—I haven’t been involved enough to establish much connection with the Temple Emanuel community. As the Christian member of our interfaith household, I felt a little awkward being the one to sign up for the online celebration. But this is a very welcoming group, and this Zoom call largely involved families with kids, giving me a chance to learn about Tu Bishvat as a beginner, through the eyes of a child. And I learned plenty.
Tu Bishvat is one of several “new year” observances, a celebration of trees and all the blessings they bring to humanity. There is a huge environmental message in the occasion, echoing the earliest instruction God gave to mankind, which was to care for the Earth. Taking care of the trees matters because the trees provide shade and protection, as well as food for nourishment. Tu Bishvat gives emphasis to planting trees and appreciating what grows on them, especially fruit and nuts.
The youngest kids on the Zoom call presented their creative works of art in celebration of trees. There were tree drawings made with colored pencils, finger paints and markers, some mixed-media trees made with tissue flowers and colorful candies, a couple of trees made of Legos, a 3-D tree with a stick and twigs, and even a tree made of dried pasta. The grade school-age kids enacted a story about the faith and patience required in waiting for the trees to mature to the point of bearing fruit. Sounds like me with my poor, pitiful garden. I needed that lesson!
Rabbi Mark shared a beautiful prayer that was like a poem, and an important reminder for everyone during these sheltered-in-place times. It spoke of the mental and spiritual benefits of being outdoors and connecting with nature in meaningful ways. I needed that lesson, too.
Finally, the unveiling of the various foods made from what tradition calls “the seven species of Israel”—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates. The “Chopped” part of the challenge was that we didn’t know until after we registered which mystery ingredient would be required as the highlighted element of our dish. Mine was pomegranate, which I love for its tangy flavor and the firm snap you get when you bite into the seeds, called “arils.” I had already decided before my ingredient was announced that I would make a focaccia, a rustic bread that is a terrific vehicle for all kinds of dried fruit or olives. Mine is topped with plenty of pom arils, toasted walnuts and fresh thyme leaves, plus a light sprinkling of chocolate-infused sea salt at the end.
Go on and get the recipe! My Sourdough Focaccia with Pomegranate and Walnuts is great for sharing, perfect as a snack, for breakfast, or with drinks before dinner. You can switch up the toppings to make it your own, savory or sweet as you wish, and it’s a great take-along if you’re meeting up with friends—outdoors, of course, beneath the trees. 😊
Master of the Universe, grant me the ability
to be alone; may it be my custom to go
outdoors each day among the trees and grass — among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into התבודדות [hitbodedut],
solitary prayer, to talk with the One
to whom I belong.
May I express there everything in my heart,
and may all the foliage of the field —
all grasses, trees, and plants —
awake at my coming, to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer
so that my prayer and speech are made whole
through the life and spirit of all growing things,
which are made as one by their
divine Source.Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav