Tu B'Shvat: Reforesting Earth to Heal Both Poverty & Climate

[Tu B'Shvat, the midwinter festival that marks the ReBirthDay of trees and of the Divine Tree of Life, begins this year on Sunday evening February 9 -- the Full Moon of the Jewish moonth of Shvat. Rabbi Gilah Langner, who wrote this article, serves as rabbi of Kol Ami congregation in Arlington, Virginia, and of the Shirat HaNefesh independent synagogue in the broader Washington DC area.  She was the founding publisher and co-editor of the journal Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism,You can write her at gilah.langner@gmail.com

[Here she proposes that we celebrate Tu B'Shvat and other moments in the Jewish year and llfe-cycle by contributing to massive reforestation in Africa -- addressing both deep poverty in the "Global South" and the need for all Earth and all Earth's species, including Humanity, to breathe again. Forests breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen -- helping to restore the balance that burning fossil fuels has broken. 

[This fusion of social justice and eco-sanity is an important theme of the Hebrew Bible. Even the mystical Tu B'Shvat had its roots in the date of tithing fruit when the Temple stood -- a tax to make sure that those who were too poor to own fruit trees could eat the fruits and nuts provided by social justice-. -  AW, Ed.]

 By Rabbi Gilah Langner

Here's a worthwhile opportunity to take action on climate change -- just in time for Tu B’Shvat.  As you probably know, planting trees can play a vital role in combating the climate crisis, but the numbers of trees that need to be planted is massive.  And trees need to be nurtured and watered after they’re planted.

Enter Trees for the Future, a Silver-Spring based nonprofit that – realistically -- aims to plant 500 million trees by 2025.  Trees for the Future has developed a Forest Garden approach, working with tens of thousands of family farmers in six African countries. Each Forest Garden involves planting and caring for an average of 4,000 trees per one-hectare farm. The Forest Gardens yield food for the families and regenerate the soil so that it, along with the trees, can sequester carbon.  

Meanwhile, farm families who are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts are being brought out of extreme poverty, and are learning "perma-gardening" techniques that will sustain food security for future generations. 

 

Shirat HaNefesh in the Washington DC area is hoping to mobilize Jewish communities across the country to fund a full project’s worth of 300 Forest Gardens in Senegal in 2020.  The idea is for synagogues to make tree planting in Africa a new priority – just like tree planting in Israel used to be.  In the process, we can connect our communities with the fate of the entire planet, helping African families and villages pull themselves out of hunger and poverty, while they, in turn, contribute to saving the planet.  Each Forest Garden costs $640, for a remarkably cost-effective 16 cents per tree.  Here are some ways to get involved: 

  • Ask participants in a Tu B'Shvat Seder to contribute for a $640 Forest Garden.
  • Funding a Forest Garden makes a beautiful Bar or Bat Mitzvah project or a Living Legacy for congregants' loved ones.  
  • Synagogues can commit to funding a certain number of Forest Gardens over the coming year, with a webpage devoted to their own challenge.  
  • To participate in the immediate Tu B'Shvat effort, please go to:  donate.trees.org/TuBShvatPlanters
  • For more information on the organization's activities, watch the documentary:  https://trees.org/documentary/ or browse the website:  trees.org

Many thanks for being part of a Jewish response to the climate crisis.    

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