Dear TEE community,
The wonderful serendipity of Jewish and other calendars interacting frequently produces interesting juxtapositions: Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, Hiroshima Day and Tisha b’Av, Ramadan and Sukkot. This year Tu b’Shevat and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day both fall on Monday Jan 16. The connection between the environment and the civil rights movement may not seem obvious at first but even in his own lifetime, Dr. King perceived that the values underlying racism were also those threatening to destroy our planet:
We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. (“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence, ” April 4, 1967)
In the decades since, those continuing Dr. King’s work have been vocal about the need to understand environmental justice as essential to the work of opposing racism. Throughout the world, those most harmed by pollution, industrial waste, exposure to toxic chemicals, and other environmental injuries are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and [other] People of Color]. In the United States, asthma and lead poisoning are just two examples of health conditions where there are extreme disparities between Black and white children.
The relationship between these two seemingly disparate holidays is a reminder of our foundational Jewish belief in the interconnectedness of everything. To heal our society we must also heal the earth and in healing the earth we heal human beings. Our Justice /pre-Tu b’Shevat Shabbat service this Friday will encourage us to make those connections and consider the unique gifts we have to offer toward our work of repair.
On Sunday Jan 16, we will be observing Tu b’Shevat in a new way as we continue to explore Jewish life via Zoom. Instead of our traditional Tu b’Shevat seder, we will offer small group experiences that will allow participants to explore different aspects of the holiday: planting and growing in a family friendly session; delving into the work of environmental justice from a Jewish perspective; digging into Jewish texts on Tu b’Shevat, and harvesting the spiritual lessons of each season using visualization, poetry, and chant. Our gathering will open and close with all of us joining together in song.
As we continue to make our way through the uncharted waters of life during a global pandemic, I am deeply grateful for the steady rhythms of our Jewish life, for Shabbat and the holidays which continue to anchor us. I hope that you, too, will find connecting with our traditions at this time offers a sense of home and haven.
Rabbi Drorah Setel