There are times when nature and the Jewish calendar work in sync, a cosmic reminder that they’re meant to fit together.
Right now, as white and pale-pink flowers bloom on almond trees countrywide, it’s that much easier to break out into a chorus of “The Almond Tree Is Blooming,” the serenade to trees on their birthday, Tu Bishvat, which begins Tuesday night.
Aside from the almond trees and fields of anemones in bloom, Tu Bishvat often feels like the national holiday of dried fruit, as supermarkets and corner shops stock copious stacks of desiccated figs (imported from Turkey), dates, pineapple, papaya, apricots, and an array of nuts, including, yes, almonds (the ones on the trees aren’t quite ripe just yet).
Dried fruit aside, it’s worth taking a drive — or walk — to appreciate the blooming trees and flowers in one’s neighborhood. But if you’re eager for a little more celebration, we have some ideas for you.
1) It’s a good holiday for volunteering at Leket Israel, the organization that offers volunteer vegetable-picking opportunities and also distributes surplus food to institutions in need. A new Leket project examines the art of food photography, as taught by food photographer Assaf Ronen to a group of 12 Israeli chefs. The photos are currently on display at the Dan Gourmet Cooking School, and Leket will receive all proceeds from the sale of the photos. Call it food for thought.
Dan Gourmet Cooking School, 53 Ness Lagoyim Street, Tel Aviv, open Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
2) Need a Tu Bishvat environmental destination? There are some obvious choices, like Ariel Sharon Park, one of the country’s biggest environmental rehabilitation projects that turned Israel’s largest garbage dump into a metropolitan green space with an array of environmental activities, as well as fields of flowers, bike paths, birdwatching, urban foraging and a long list of tours.
Up north, there’s Solar eTree, at the Ramat Hanadiv Sustainability Garden, near Zichron Yaakov. The so-called Giving Tree is made from solar panels that draw energy from the sun, while offering a cool spot for humans and pets. The eTree also provides water, Wi-Fi and a charging point, as well as light at night. It’s not quite the same as a real tree, but it has value.
Footprint Garden, Ramat Hanadiv.
For a look at what’s new in environmental architecture, go visit the new Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, known by students as “the egg building” for the capsule embedded inside. Visible from its perch above the Ayalon Highway, the building was named the first platinum LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — certified in Israel, a title given only to 17 green buildings worldwide, and awarded for its thermo-solar air-conditioning system, use of gray water and a green roof. It’s worth a visit.
Tel Aviv University, George Wise Street, across from campus Gate 14.
3) Need a farm to visit? One option in the center is the urban farm of Tel Aviv, with 70 dunams (17 acres) of active farm in the middle of the city. There’s no planting this year, because of the farm’s observance of shmita — the Jewish practice of letting the land lie fallow for an entire year — but there will be theater and music performances, planting beans, chickpeas and lentils in milk cartons, arts and crafts and storytelling, woodworking and a Gymboree space for little ones.
Hachava, Ganei Yehoshua, entrance from Rokach Boulevard, Ramat Gan, across from House 74. NIS 49 per ticket, from ages 2 and up.
I’m planning on using Tu Bishvat as an opportunity to examine what’s going on with the composter in our backyard, which I’ve pointedly ignored for the last few months. It does require some attention, ahead of the spring and summer. Thankfully, my local compost experts prepared a video explaining what to do with a full composter.
4) If you’re looking for an indoor activity, try out this year’s Tu Bishvat seder — compiled by the Agriculture Ministry — which is geared toward the theme of shmita. Besides the compilation of songs and passages regarding nature and the land of Israel, there are wine-tasting opportunities, with instructions on which kinds of wine to imbibe for the four cups — from white to rose to red. There are also activities for younger and older kids, including creating a tree map of one’s neighborhood, and choosing the tree that best describes one’s community. The PDF is all in Hebrew, but it’s worth downloading and exploring at length.
5) Shira Buzelan, The Times of Israel home chef, recommends making a Dried fruit tagine with all that dried fruit piled up on the counter. Then you have something to serve for dinner.
Dried Fruit Tagine
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large onions, sliced
- ⅓ cup blanched almonds, split
- ¼ cup dried apricots, halved
- ¼ cup pitted dried prunes, halved
- ¼ cup dark raisins
- 3 tablespoons silan (date honey)
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ to ⅓ cup water
- Using a heavy-bottomed pan, heat oil at medium-high heat, and add the onions.
- Reduce to medium and fry onions until golden. Then add almonds and sauté until golden, adding the rest of the fruits and mix well.
- Season with salt, pepper and cinnamon. Add the silan, tossing to coat. Add water, mix and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to low, cover, and cook until all the water is absorbed.
- Serve hot, piled on couscous, quinoa, or rice.
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