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Happy New Year (To The Trees)!


Happy New Year, only this time I’m referring to “New Year for the Trees,” a Jewish holiday known as Tu B’Shvat.

As with all Jewish holidays, Tu B’Shvat offers another opportunity to learn, grow, and, of course, eat food that is both symbolic and scrumptious. God I love being Jewish.

So on the eve of Tu B’Shvat, which falls on the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar, I celebrated with Chabad of Chesterfield in the produce section of our local Schnucks. (This St. Louis supermarket chain, pronounced “Shnooks,” sounds Yiddish, but it’s not). As I grabbed an onion and gently plucked the stems of a pineapple, I asked myself, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Actually, that’s a question for Passover.

Anyway, the reason I was at the grocery store on this night was because Chabad was hosting a family-friendly Tu B’Shvat food demo, and I wanted to see what it was all about. Before we got to dig into the bounty of sweets that were spread out across the long tables, we learned about the importance of trees. People and trees share the same needs. 1) Trees and humans have roots, and we should know where we came from. 2) A family trees has branches. 3) We must plant seeds for the next generation, which means teaching our children about Judaism and taking care of the earth. So basically Jewish people have been celebrating Earth Day for thousands of years.

Next, we got a taste of the Seven Species, which are the two grains and five fruits listed in the Hebrew Bible as being native to the land of milk and honey.  These are wheat, barley, grape (wine), fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), and dates (honey).

In honor of the Tu B’Shvat, it’s customary to have a seder, a festive meal featuring these native fruits that grow plentiful in Israel. At our mock seder, we  splurged on a kid-friendly dessert banquet set up in the middle of the grocery store, next to the refrigerated platters of cocktails weenies on sale for $9.49. We sat at long tables filled with platters of chocolate chips, colorful sprinkles, raisins, dried cranberries, nuts, coconut, and even mini marshmallows. We filled the goodies in small paper cupcake liners and drizzled them with melted chocolate. By the way, although chocolate isn’t native to Israel, there’s a Jewish connection to the carob tree. It takes 70 years for a carob tree to bear fruit, and that means whoever planted it most likely won’t be around to enjoy the fruits of their labor. That’s the whole idea, and one of the most basic principles of Judaism. Chocolate is not only a delicious treat, but reminds us what our ancestors did for us, by planting trees and taking care of the earth. And we must do the same for the sake of our children and their children. Meanwhile, our hostess Chana Rubenfeld, a mom of six boys, held both of her four-month-old twins in her arms and shared her recipe for chocolates and date nut balls.

Chanala has her hands full with her twin sons.

Chanala has her hands full with her twin sons.


Date nut balls are easy to make.

Date nut balls are easy to make.

For more information on ways to celebrate Tu B’Shvat, including seder rituals, prayers, activities, and recipes, visit www.chabad.org.

Here’s a few tasty treats to get you started:


Chanala’s Date Nut Balls 

8-10 dates

1 cup walnuts

tsp. vanilla

Mix ingredients in food processor until fine. Roll into balls and roll into coconut (if desired).


Chocolate Discs

2 cups chocolate chips

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup chopped nuts

optional: Craisins, dates, coconut, mini marshmallows

Melt Chocolate chips in a microwave bowl for two minutes, stopping and rotating bowl every 30 seconds.

Add flavoring such as vanilla, coffee, mint or peppermint extract. Mix well.

Add chopped nuts ad or optional ingredients of your choice. Mix well.

Pour chocolate mixture into mini cupcakke tins. Place in freezer for 30 minutes until chilled.

Peel off cupcake tins.

Savor and enjoy!