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Making Tu B'Shevat

Have you ever heard the phrase "making Shabbat"? As in, "are you making Shabbat this week," or "I'm sorry, I have to head home to make Shabbat." I've always found this phrase to be simultaneously puzzling and delightful. On the one hand, Shabbat is happening because it's a day of the week- Saturday- and it starts at sundown Friday night, irrespective of anyone's actions. On the other hand, I love thinking that Shabbat only exists because we mark it; otherwise, it would just be Saturday. 

In fact, the terminology of "making" a holiday comes straight from the Torah. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we are instructed to "make for ourselves" the holidays of Sukkot and Shavuot. And indeed, we Jews know how to make a holiday. Some holidays are biblically commanded, like Sukkot and Shavuot, and some, like Purim and Chanukah, are codified in rabbinic literature. We keep adding more and more of them- like Lag BaOmer sometime in the Middle Ages or Yom HaAtzmaut in the last century. Of course, some holidays were added by different Jewish communities- like Sigd in Ethiopia. 

One of the many marvelous things about a Jewish Day School experience is that no holiday is left uncelebrated. We celebrate the most obscure of days, and we "make for ourselves" Jewish celebrations whenever a kernel of opportunity presents. 

Yesterday, we made for ourselves the holiday of Tu Bishvat (ט" ו בשבט‎), and it took over the entire building. The Mishnah teaches that Tu Bishvat is the new year for trees. This lovely idea may have had practical ramifications as well. There is a biblical prohibition against eating the fruit of a tree during the first three years after planting. We calculate the beginning of this agricultural cycle from Tu Bishvat. In the 17th century, the kabbalist of safed added rituals to Tu Bishvat, like a seder of fruit. In recent years, Tu Bishvat has also become a day to emphasize the importance of environmentalism as a Jewish value. At Beit Rabban, we celebrated all angles of Tu Bishvat this week. We held seders with magnificent platters of fruit, sang Tu Bishvat songs, added compost bins on all floors, learned Jewish poetry and prayers referencing trees, and hung up green art all over the building. We even spent the last month of art class preparing for a Tu Bishvat communal art installation. All K-8 students worked on "For the Trees," an art installation inspired by For Forest, a temporary art intervention by Klaus Littmann Austria) that filled a football field with 299 trees up to 14 feet high. Our version featured approximately 100 tree sculptures, each made by a different student from plaster, gauze, foil, tape, paint, and paper. In Jewish day schools, we treat a day like Tu Bishvat as if it were a high holiday.

At Beit Rabban, we add even more holidays particular to our community, like "Erev Thanksgiving," the day before Thanksgiving break that is celebrated with a grand parade of gratitude, or "Chagigat HaPijama," pajama day right after we return from February break. We cannot get enough celebration. While planning ahead for holidays through the end of the school year, our administration decided we should start celebrating Pesach Sheni at school. Pesach Sheni is a holiday meant to allow Jews at the time of the Beit Hamikdash to bring the Pesach sacrifice later if they happen to have been "impure" and therefore prohibited from bringing the sacrifice on Pesach. At Beit Rabban, we decided that Pesach Sheni would be a "second chance" holiday for students and teachers. You get a redo on anything you happen to have missed at school in the past year. Did you miss a special ice cream day? No problem, you can have it on Pesach Sheni. Were you sick on Pajama Day? No problem, you can wear your PJs on Pesach Sheni. Pesach Sheni is about to become very popular with our students, while no one else will know its date on the Gregorian calendar. 

We make a big deal of each special moment: the traditional and newly created holidays. We imbue each of them with Jewish traditions, values, history, laws (when relevant: the Talmud does not discuss Pajama Day, much to my chagrin), and celebration. This is such a crucial part of what it means to choose immersive Jewish education, to "make for ourselves" holidays and communal celebrations, and to live the Jewish calendar in a full way. We experienced this profoundly this week, and it was marvelous. 

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