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Tu BiShvat: Doing Something About It.

Tu BiShvat: Doing Something About It.

I consider myself an environmentalist. I write about the earth, think about the earth, care about the earth. I wrote my rabbinical thesis partly on Judaism and the environment, and I helped found en environmental advocacy committee in my synagogue. I believe that rethinking our relationship to the earth is the great challenge and the most important task of our generation.

So I was sorely disappointed in myself recently when I realized that I'm not actually doing much for the environment. Sure, my favorite pastime is walking around the house turning off lights that the kids have left on, but that's mostly a money-saving activity. I drive a gas car (albeit a pretty small one); I use the A/C and heat a little more than I probably should; I don't compost; I'm usually too lazy to unplug appliances at night; and I am a terrible gardener.

I don't want to be an environmentalist only in name. So this summer, we are doing something about it. We are joining a CSA - a Community Supported Agriculture program. It's a small step, but it's something. I am proud to say that Temple Beth El will be sponsoring this program for the first time this year, and that it will allow local Charlotteans to eat local Charlottean produce for 16 weeks of the summer. The pickup is at Shalom Park, so it's convenient.

I'm excited about this for two reasons. First, because it's a tangible effort to do something green. Second, because it will - I hope - increase the variety of produce that our family eats, and force us to be creative with our cooking in a way that is in concert with the earth's natural cycles. I like the idea of eating local, seasonal vegetables - not only because of the carbon footprint issue, but because I like the idea of being a little more aware of where my food comes from, and of my relationship to the earth.

This Shabbat is Tu BiShvat, the Jewish "New Year of the Trees." Although it is often celebrated as a Kabbalistic festival, it is also a powerful reminder that Judaism is - at its core- an agricultural way of life. Our ancestors were farmers, and all of our holidays are agricultural in their origins. (Before Pesach celebrated the Exodus from Egypt, it was the beginning of the Spring harvest season.) In our ancient agrarian society, Tu BiShvat was the day in which you began to count the new year for purposes of tithing of fruits; that's why the trees need a New Year.

Nowadays most of us don't grow anything, and we don't really even know where our food comes from. That's a tragedy. I'm as guilty as the next guy, and this CSA isn't really going to change that very much. But maybe it will push me in the right direction.

Now I just have to get myself to turn off those darned appliances ...

What are you doing for the earth?

Rabbi Micah Streiffer is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth El in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and 3 sons. He was ordained at the Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2007. This post originally appeared at Chutz Mizeh and is reprinted with permission. Read more on food and the environment with the URJ's Shulchan Yarok, Shulchan Tzedek (Green Table, Just Table) Biennial Initiative.

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