Celebrating the Gifts of the Tree

Friends, this week I am in Florida visiting our community's snowbirds. Dane Kostin, a longtime Federation supporter along with his wife, Michele, has generously contributed a guest Shabbat message about an initiative that is dear to many of us. Shabbat Shalom. - Howard

This past Wednesday, our community celebrated the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of the month of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar. Tu B'Shevat is the new year of the trees, the beginning of tree blooming season in Israel.

It is no wonder we celebrate trees. They provide food, shade, building materials, and oxygen; they absorb carbon dioxide; and they reduce smog by soaking up greenhouse gases. Trees provide firewood, warmth, and shelter for humans, birds and insects. They preserve the history of climate change through their rings. Trees reduce storm water runoff and preserve and filter rainwater, thereby lessening both flooding and drought. Beautiful objects can be fashioned from them, including paper and furniture. Our sages have numerous references to trees and metaphorically call the Torah a tree of life.

Many of us have memories of the trees we grew up with: of the tree that came down in the wrong place at the wrong time, of special and personal carvings on a tree trunk, of a swing hung from tree branches, of the leaves we raked, of a tree house we loved (or wished for but never had), of the tree at which we held secret meetings or met friends.

Planting trees in Israel - so important to reclaiming the land - is central to celebrating Tu B'Shevat, as is enjoying the fruits of the tree: olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates.

To provide produce for those with limited access to fresh food and to memorialize our daughter, Jessica, who died unexpectedly at age 26 in 2010, our family started Jessie's Community Gardens with the help of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. The gardens are an ongoing project of Federation and the Kostin family, generously supported by many others. There are 13 gardens in place, and the fourteenth is scheduled to open this spring.  Launching a Jessie's Community Garden requires planning, volunteer training, installation, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting and produce delivery. All of these activities bring the community together.

It was not a big leap to extend the gardens to include fruit trees. In 2012, we established our first orchard (and berry garden) at Westmoor Park on Flagg Road in West Hartford. It replaced an orchard that had been destroyed in a hurricane. The orchard provides fruit for those who have limited access to fresh fruit and is used to teach children how to care for trees, how to protect fruit, when to pick it, and how to turn it into pies and other food. Beth David Synagogue and Saint Thomas the Apostle Church jointly established a Jessie's Garden in 2014 and also chose to plant fruit trees in their garden.

Tu B'Shevat gives us another opportunity during the Jewish year to be thankful for all that we have and for the beauty of this world, especially the majesty of trees. Trees provide us with so much. Let's celebrate, plant and protect them!.

Shabbat Shalom.


Dane Kostin

To learn more about Jessie's Community Gardens or to get involved, contact Alana Butler, Federation's Director of Community Engagement, at abutler@jewishhartford.org or 860.727.6152.


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