Interact with the Earth
Does your grandchild like to spend time in the great outdoors? Do you have special memories of planting in the garden? Do you think he/she should learn about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, “repairing of the world?” If so, then these activities might spark an appreciation both for the environment and for Judaism in your grandchildren who are living in intermarried/interpartnered households.
1. Plant a Tree Together
Did you plant trees in your childhood for Tu B’Shvat? Have you ever planted a tree for the American tree-centered holiday, Arbor Day? If so, you have experienced the beauty and pride in planting a tree.
Why plant trees with your grandchildren? For one, the activity helps the environment, requires a bit of exercise, and can be appreciated by children of all ages. Planting a tree together creates a positive memory that your grandchild will associate with you and the fun Jewish holiday. This shared experience also can lead to discussion with your grandchild both about the environment and the perils it faces. Planting a tree also has lasting effects. As the years go by, you and your grandchild can go back to the tree, witness its growth from seed or sapling, and compare the tree’s development with that of your grandchild. You can order trees and seeds to plant yourself here.
While planting the tree, you may explain to your grandchildren how important trees are in Judaism. The Torah and various Jewish commentary compare trees to humans because, just like trees, we have the potential to grow, change, and develop from the likes of a small seed. You can read a more in-depth analysis of the human-as-tree metaphor in this article.
Trees also play central role in Torah and Jewish lore. Ask your grandchild what he/she knows of the very accessible Garden of Eden story in the Book of Genesis. Share the story if your grandchild does not know it and discuss why you think it focuses on the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. This article parses the rabbinic thought on Eden’s Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge and explains the role of trees in various Jewish stories.
In order to give your tree planting a sense of closure and meaning, consider reading aloud a poem or prayer. Here, you can find both A Planter’s Poem and The Planter’s Prayer.
2. Visit, Dig, and Help Out at a Community Garden
Planting vegetables or helping clean up at a community garden is also a great way to bond with your grandchild. You can spend time outdoors and celebrate Tu B’Shvat by digging into the soil. While in the dirt, you have the opportunity to teach your grandchild what tools to use, how to take care of the seeds and plants as they grow, and how to maintain the plots throughout the process. Beyond practical lessons, you also can discuss the importance of eating fresh healthy food and how eating locally grown food (like from community gardens) can help the environment. Many community gardens have become important tools of social justice, serving to provide healthy foods to those who normally cannot afford fresh foods and live in “food deserts.” Here’s how you can get started:
- If you visit the American Community Gardening Association website, you can find gardens in your neighborhood, instructions on how to campaign for their protection, and how-to-garden books.
- If you are interested in gardening with your grandchild and cannot find a community garden in your neighborhood, consider taking charge and starting one at your own synagogue. The Union of Reform Judaism has developed a guide to introduce a garden to your synagogue or community. If you decided to pursue this, be sure to consider the feelings of your intermarried children to make sure that they would feel comfortable having you bring their child to the synagogue’s garden.
3. Visit a Park or an Arboretum
If you would prefer to just soak in the nature and experience the beauty of the environment on Tu B’Shvat, take your grandchild to a park, garden, or arboretum. You can marvel at different types of trees, plants, and flowers, as well as photograph interesting natural features. Beyond admiring nature, you can relay your favorite stories and memories of your life in the great outdoors to your grandchild. If you feel particularly spiritual in nature, you may want to incorporate your outlook (with sensitivity) into the conversation. Considering how much time your grandchild may be indoors and staring at screens, this refreshing activity can be an important step in instilling an appreciation for nature. Here you can find the best gardens and arboretums throughout the United States and here you can find the national and state parks throughout the country.
Discovering nature’s beauty in parks with your grandchild is the perfect opportunity to raise Jewish teachings on the environment. A “Tu B’Shvat Living Talmud,” (which you should print out if you can beforehand), is a compilation of quotes appropriate for middle school or high school age grandchildren. The quotes describe the importance of trees and come from sources like the Torah, Talmud, and even more modern figures like President Franklin Roosevelt. Have your grandchild real a few aloud and discuss the quotes’ meaning. What does the quote teach?
Your visit to the park might can also be an occasion to have a Tu B’Shvat seder (ritual meal) picnic. Learn more about Tu B’Shvat seders on the Fun Food Ideas page.
4. Write a Letter with Your Grandchild to Help Save the World’s Forests
Rainforests and their unusual inhabitants are exciting to learn about, often being embraced by children. As such, the demise or threat of demise often deeply affects them. The problem of deforestation is clear-cut and easy to explain. These bio-diverse regions are disappearing because of human activity, leaving animals without a habitat and extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Tu B’Shvat is a perfect opportunity to introduce your grandchild the beauty of rainforests (you can look at photographs here) and the obligation that everyone has to save them from deforestation.
If you think your grandchild has a penchant for being “green,” you can read a book about the rainforest, discuss the threat of deforestation, and decide to take action together by writing a letter to a corporation which profits from deforestation. This website explains how one company benefits from cutting down the forests and provides a sample letter to write the company in order to change their practices. The simple activity of letter-writing can help you and your grandchild bond over a shared passion and teach him/her the importance of seemingly small actions can help fulfill the Jewish obligation of repairing the world – tikkun olam.