Planting of trees marks Jewish New Year next weekend

Arbor Day meets Earth Day meets Judaism next weekend at Modesto’s Cesar Chavez Park, where the Hebrew New Year of Trees will be celebrated.

Congregation Beth Shalom will mark the ancient holiday, Tu B’Shvat, with a public tree planting on Feb. 8. CBS will donate the 12 trees in celebration of the Jewish holiday that has its origins in biblical passages about the sacredness of fruit trees and the produce of their first four years, according to Rabbi Shalom Bochner.

“Tu B’Shvat is a minor holiday and incredible opportunity to appreciate the many blessings of the natural world,” Bochner said in a press release. “Trees provide us with so much, from shade to food and buildings, paper, pencils, fuel and, of course, fresh air. This holiday is our chance to give back to the world and make sure that we are leaving it in better condition than we found it.”

The city of Modesto forestry division helps with the community event, which has been going on annually for at least six years. Sycamores, atlas cedars, Leland cypress, black tupelo and a variety of maple trees will be planted.

“We let the city of Modesto forestry preservation department pick out the location where trees are needed, pick out the trees, and we buy and plant them. The city digs the holes for us to make it easier,” CBS member and planting event coordinator Tom Gough said in an email. Tu B’Shvat celebrations have been held at various parks over the years, including Chrysler, Beard Brook, Kewin and Muncy.

The planting will begin at 11 a.m. at Cesar Chavez Park, on Sierra Drive between Third and Fourth streets, adjacent to the Maddux Youth Center. Following the planting, the public is invited to stick around for refreshments.

The day before, on Saturday, the congregation will hold a Tu B’Shvat seder, also open to the public. The seder meal will feature fruit, nuts, juices and wine beginning at 12:30 p.m.; a $10 donation is requested of non-CBS members.

Tu B’Shvat is one of four annual Jewish new year celebrations for months/kings, animals, people and trees, according to the press release. The name Tu B’Shvat means “15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat” and the holiday always falls on a full moon in late winter. Scholars believe that the holiday originated as an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring.

According to Bochner, festive meals traditionally have marked the event. Customs include serving 15 kinds of fruit or offering a menu with biblical foods from Israel, such as dates, grapes, olives, figs, pomegranates, wheat and barley.

In recent decades, the holiday has become a sort of Jewish earth day, Bochner said, with tree plantings, special seders, environmental teachings, meditations and songs.

Reach Bee staff writer Pat Clark at