New Beginnings – Tu BiShvat and the Climate Crisis

By Nigel Savage, Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Lisa Colton & Rabbi Josh Weisman.

The three Jewish festival holidays mark transitions in our relationship with the natural environment: the start and end of the growing seasons, which give us both physical and spiritual sustenance. Tu BiShvat – the New Year for Trees – reminds us that everything we have, everything we do, depends upon the natural world that sustains us. Our stewardship of the natural world is the moral imperative contained within Tu BiShvat.

As we all know, the clock is ticking. Humanity needs to commit to real change. And the Jewish community, as an ethically-based people, must model this commitment – as individuals, as leaders, and as a community as a whole.

Bold climate action at the scale that science and justice demand needs to become a central moral imperative of the entire Jewish world

That’s why hundreds of leaders and organizations have come together to create The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. Our goal is to make climate action a central moral issue of the Jewish communal agenda.

For five days, in celebration of Tu BiShvat, thousands of people will participate in over 125 events to learn, be inspired, teach others and feel our collective responsibility and power to make change. Come join the Fest to be inspired by experts, enriched by ritual leaders, energized by entertainers, and sustained by community. Every single one of us has something to contribute, to do, and to learn. We invite you and your communities to explore the range of events – from science and policy, to art and advocacy; Jewish learning and ritual, to comedy and cooking – all free and (mostly) online.

Tu BiShvat has undergone many incarnations over the centuries. In the rabbinic period it marked the age of trees for purposes of tithing their fruit; during the flowering of Jewish mysticism in Tzfat it was an occasion for mystical reflection on the Tree of Life; in the modern era it took on the role of a holiday for planting trees; and most recently those strands have united in Tu BiShvat as a Jewish Earth Day.  

This year, we are re-energizing Tu BiShvat to drive systemic change in Jewish life. Just as liberation is rooted in Passover and teshuvah in the High Holidays, climate action needs a specific place to take root in Judaism. The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest roots climate awareness and action in Tu BiShvat with spiritual inspiration, practical solutions, and an action-oriented ethos. From here, we hope bold climate action will branch out to fill the whole Jewish year and the whole Jewish world.

The best and the brightest of our young people already know that climate change is one of the most urgent moral issues of our time. The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest features many of them who have been exercising their Jewish values and leadership skills, and are urging our community to prioritize this issue. It is incumbent upon us as Jewish leaders to recognize that we must address this defining issue of our time.

This means action, from making changes in your own behavior; getting your community involved (for example starting a Jewish Youth Climate Movement chapter, having your organization join the Hazon Seal of Sustainability or starting a Dayenu Circle); and raising your voice for systemic change (for example through the Chutzpah campaign). Get more ideas and find Festival sessions to inspire and support your action here.

Because science tells us that the next ten years are the defining moment to transform our energy systems in order to avoid the very worst of climate chaos, by the end of the shmita year – September, 2022 – Jewish institutions need to make a serious seven-year commitment to address these issues with integrity, from the food we serve, the power we consume, the education we deliver, to the way we raise our moral voice together. As Jewish leaders, we call upon all of us to make a difference. 

The past year has shown both our vulnerability in the face of the natural world, and, in response, what human ingenuity, determination, and social solidarity can accomplish. Our virtual connections right now make it possible for us to gather as a big, broad, bold community to acknowledge that climate change is one of the central moral priorities of our time. We hope to see you and your communities at The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. 

This year online; by next year, may climate action be integral to every Jewish community.

Happy Tu BiShvat.