Hillel, JFarm’s Tu B’Shevat seder ushers in spring

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By Michele Amira, staff writer, @nicejewishswag

Seder-goers meditate in the basement of Queen Anne’s Hall prior to the Tu B’Shevat meal. Maryland Hillel and JFarm hosted the seder Feb. 4 to commemorate the Jewish holiday of the trees. (Photo by Jacob Schaperow)

You’ve heard of the Seinfeld episode “Two Worlds Colliding”? Well, Hillel’s Tu B’Shevat seder had “four worlds” colliding — all of which had spiritual significance to Israel and ushering in the upcoming spring.

In Israel, Tu B’Shevat is a traditional holiday that signals the beginning of spring. Although it does not feel like spring yet in the DMV, the swag and spirit of the season was very much present at the “Four Worlds” Tu B’Shevat seder on Feb. 4 hosted by Hillel’s Rabbi Sarah Tasman in collaboration with the Jewish environmental group JFarm UMD.

Tasman led a mystical yoga and meditation-based meal of the fruits of Israel. The seder plates overflowed with fruits of Israel — grapes, jaffa oranges, dates and pomegranates — that were placed on the blankets.

“Most people are familiar with the Passover seder, which uses special foods and ritual items on the seder plate to retell the story of the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to freedom,” Tasman said in an email. But Passover isn’t the only seder in Jewish tradition.

The Tu B’Shevat seder has many similarities to the Rosh Hashanah and Passover meals. In addition, the seder followed the kabbalistic framework of the four worlds, all of which were represented by the different fruit served at the seder. According to Chabad.org, Kabbalists believe the four worlds gives answers to the creation of the world, and by tasting the fruit of Tu B’Shevat you are tasting each of the four spiritual or mystical realms of divine creation.

“The inspiration for the seder was to allow us to be more aware of the different aspects of creation and creativity in our lives — including the natural world around us, as well as the intellectual, artistic and spiritual worlds within each of our selves,” she said.

The Jewish pro-environment group JFarm UMD co-hosted the seder. This Tu B’Shevat fell during a shmita year, the seventh year in the cycle of Jewish  agricultural tradition, where farmers in the land of Israel are required to leave their fields fallow. The laws of shmita can be related to food sustainability, according to JFarm co-president sophomore Adam Kellner.

“There are many agricultural production laws regarding shmita that directly relate to food distribution and scarcity, and Tu Bishvat gives us a nudge to focus more of our energy on those food justice-related subjects,” Kellner said.

“I think there is a lot of significance between Tu B’Shevat, sustainability and the student organizers from JFarm who spoke at the seder,” Tasman said. “For a holiday that celebrates trees, the natural world, and being mindful about the food we eat and the way we eat — saying blessings before and after we eat — sustainability is a natural extension of being mindful and aware of our food sources, our food economy and taking care of our world. Since we don’t always learn about or think sustainability or food justice during other Jewish holidays, Tu B’Shevat is a great opportunity to do so.”

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