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Tu Bishvat Celebrates Symbolic Fruits and Nuts

Leave it to ancient and modern Jews to milk another holiday—Tu Bishvat—for all its glory. Tu Bishvat, also known as the New Year or birthday for trees, raises our awareness of the environment. On top of that, Tu Bishvat is also called Feast of Fruits, which celebrates the native and abundant delicacies of the land of Israel.

Sounds like a good excuse to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Tu BiShevat, which falls on February 3 this year, occurs in the middle of winter in the United States, but around the same time in Israel, the shekediyah, or almond tree, shows the first hint of Spring with pink and white flowers. To commemorate the miracle of nature and another bountiful harvest, Jews everywhere wine and dine on special fruits and nuts as part of their Tu Bishvat seder.

In medieval times, kabbalists (Jewish mystics) considered special treats like almonds, dates, figs, wheat and barley, pomegranates, and avocado both succulent and spiritual. They believed that inside a fruit or nut is a seed that represents new life and potential growth. Likewise, that same divine presence is hidden inside all human beings. On Tu Bishvat, it became customary to enjoy foods like olives, honey, oranges, and kiwi as a symbolic way of releasing this divine energy or God’s presence in the world. Carob is another traditional food eaten on Tu Bishvat since it traveled well from Israel to faraway lands.

Today, the Tu Bishvat seder is an appetizing way to introduce your family to new tastes and traditions. In between eating fruits and nuts, adult celebrants drink four cups of wine and say special blessings. The first cup contains white wine, which symbolizes the dormancy of winter. Gradually, red wine is added to each subsequent glass to indicate the full bloom of Spring. For a non-alcoholic toast, try a mixture of apple juice, white grape juice, cherry juice, pomegranate juice, or cranberry juice.

In addition to reading stories about nature, participants can recite these Tu Bishvat blessings:

Before each cup of wine, say: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam borei p’ree ha-gafen. You bound in Blessings, Adonai Our God. You create the fruit of the vine.

Before eating fruit, say: Barauh tah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam, borei p’ree ha’eitz. Holy One of Blessing. Your Presence fills creation; creating the fruit of the vine.

When you see a tree in blossom for the first time in Spring, say:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam, shelo hisar meolamo davar, uvarah vo briyot tovot veilanot tovim, lehanot bahem benai adam.
Holy one of Blessing. Your Presence fills Creation; You left nothing lacking in Your world, and created in it goodly creatures and beautiful trees to delight people’s hearts.

Also, to celebrate Tu Bishvat, try a new recipe with Israeli specialty foods, including this scrumptious desert or breakfast treat that combines the look of a winter snowflake with the sweet taste of Spring.

Israeli Date Cake

Here’s the entire recipe:
Israeli Date Cake
In a large mixing bowl, pour:
1/2 cup boiling water over 1 pound chopped dates
2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup sugar
2 T butter
Beat slightly:
2 eggs
Add to other ingredients.
Mix together in another bowl:
3 1/2 cup flour
2 t baking soda
1/4 cup carob powder or cocoa (optional)
Add to wet ingredients.
2 t vanilla
dash cinnamon
Bake in lightly greased 9 x 13 pan at 350 for about one hour. Do not overcook. Allow to cool before serving. To make snowflake decoration on top, place a large doiley over the cake. Dust with powdered sugar, then very carefully remove the doily.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to her new email: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com.