By Jacqueline Hyman
Every year, Jews celebrate Tu B’Shevat sometime in the middle of the winter to celebrate the new year for trees. The holiday’s date is determined by the Jewish calendar, and falls on the 15th of Shevat, as its name indicates. However, this is often the most easily forgotten Jewish holiday as it doesn’t hold the same religious significance as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana or Passover, and isn’t quite as fun as Hanukkah. So what exactly is Tu B’Shevat, and how can we keep it relevant today?
This holiday marks the next year of a tree’s life, and people often celebrate by eating new fruits. According to Chabad, we celebrate the life of trees in the winter because in Israel, this is when trees begin to produce fruit. So while our trees here in America may be barren, Israel is becoming plentiful once more.
Chabad recommends eating fruits that are abundant in Israel, such as dates, figs, pomegranates, grapes and olives (I personally would not consider an olive a fruit, but that’s a different story…), and to eat fruits that one has not eaten the entire season previously.
What we should do is use Tu B’Shevat as a reminder to be kind to our environment. Without trees and plants, we as humans could not survive. Unfortunately, many have gotten into the bad habit of taking our planet for granted. And whether or not you believe in climate change, respecting the environment around you is so important. This can mean a number of things, namely NOT littering, recycling and conserving energy and water. Conservation is essentially built into my lifestyle, whether that’s because I care about recycling or because my mom yelled at me to turn the lights off (to save money) as a kid, I don’t know. But no matter how I developed these habits, I’m grateful that I did.
Every time I visit family in Montana, I am shocked and perturbed by the fact that the state doesn’t have a recycling system. My aunt and uncle’s countless beer bottles and cereal boxes are simply trashed and taken to the dump. When I worked for a catering company, it hurt to see how many bottles were thrown away and how much food was wasted. But here in College Park, there’s virtually no excuse to have bad habits.
This university uses a single stream recycling system, which accepts everything you could think of except plastic bags. Each trash can and recycling bin in the dining halls and in the Stamp Student Union even outlines what items are acceptable for recycling. Another great thing is composting, which allows consumers to throw away food scraps and compostable materials, which essentially are biodegradable.
At home, my family simply has a bucket for food scraps that we throw behind our trees — eventually, it will decompose and turn into natural fertilizer. It is harder to do this living in an apartment off-campus, but recycling is still very simple. Those little pieces of paper that you don’t need anymore come from the trees we so desperately need, and can be reused to make new products. Even the new complex Terrapin Row uses single stream recycling.
Recycling isn’t the only way to help the environment and the trees to which we have dedicated an entire holiday. You can also reuse materials as long as possible (save your grocery bags and use them as trash bags!) and avoid littering. Doesn’t it look horrible when you see pieces of trash or empty glass bottles lying in the grass? Or plastic bags caught in tree branches? There are tons of trash floating around in the oceans, affecting ocean life — including animals and plants. I’m not saying everyone should go around picking up trash, because that would be pretty unsanitary, but just don’t be someone who throws trash on the ground. Wait to walk 10 feet to the nearest trash can or recycling bin.
Lastly, and this may be the hardest bad habit to kick, don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave a room, unplug appliances and chargers when not in use, and turn off the faucet so no water is dripping out. It’s easy to forget that there are actual resources being used to keep our utilities working, but this is a big drain on nonrenewable or limited resources. At the very least, it could save you or your parents some money.
There are many reasons we must be aware of our effect on the environment, but no matter the motivation, it’s important to get into good habits. So this year on Tu B’Shevat, eat some delicious grapes or pomegranate seeds, remember gratefully that life comes from plants, and turn off your computer after reading this article.
Jacqueline is a junior journalism and English major. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.