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Tree planting in Modesto park set to mark Jewish holiday Tu B’Shvat

Benjamin Lester fills in the soil around a newly planted tree at Cesar Chavez Park in Modesto, during Congregation Beth Shalom’s 2016 Tu B’Shvat celebration.
Benjamin Lester fills in the soil around a newly planted tree at Cesar Chavez Park in Modesto, during Congregation Beth Shalom’s 2016 Tu B’Shvat celebration. Modesto Bee file

The environment and Jewish mysticism come together during a multi-day celebration in Modesto this week.

Congregation Beth Shalom will mark Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish birthday and new year for the trees, with a series of events, culminating in a community planting of trees at Mark Twain Park.

Tu B’Shvat is an obscure holiday, according to information from Rabbi Shalom Bochner, but has been marked for nearly 2,000 years. This year, the holiday is observed from the night of Friday, Feb. 10, through Saturday, Feb. 11.

It’s become a celebration of trees, their produce and planting, as well as a day for a “mystical Seder,” according to Bochner.

“Tu B’Shvat seems like such a perfect fit for Stanislaus County,” Bochner said in a news release. “One of the natural signs of the holiday are when we see the almond trees blooming, and we produce so many of the world’s almonds here. We celebrate the Tu B’Shvat Seder with four cups of wine or grape juice, and Gallo is the largest winery in the world. The heart of the holiday is appreciating trees and all that they give us, and here we are surrounded by so many beautiful nut and fruit trees.”

The congregation has held similar celebrations at various city parks over the years, including Chrysler, Beard Brook, Kewin, Muncy and – in 2016 – Cesar Chavez Park. This year, a series of events and activities, all open to the public, will lead up to the tree planting, including classes, Seders, discussions and more.

Here’s a rundown on what’s planned; most of the events are free and at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1705 Sherwood Ave., Modesto, unless otherwise noted:

▪ “Spiritual Environmentalism,” a discussion with Bochner and the Rev. Darcy Baxter from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

▪ “Tot Shabbat” and tree celebration, 6:30 p.m. Friday.

▪ Shabbat and Tu B’Shvat services, 7 to 8 p.m. Friday, followed by refreshments.

▪ Tu B’Shvat Mystical Seder, a meal of fruits, nuts, wines or juices, songs, teachings and meditations, 8:30 p.m. Friday, $10; reserve by Wednesday to rabbi@cbsmodesto.org.

▪ A discussion about trees in the Bible, 12:30 p.m. Feb. 11.

▪ Adult education class, “The Blessings of Nature,” 10 a.m. Feb. 12.

▪ CBS Family Fest: Tu B’Shvat, 11 a.m. Feb. 12, with hands-on activities for families with children. $18 donation per family for those not enrolled in the CBS Hebrew School. The event ends with a tree planting at CBS at 12:15 p.m.

▪ Tree planting at Mark Twain Park, 1 to 2 p.m. Feb. 12. The park is at 1201 California Ave., Modesto.

For more, go to www.cbsmodesto.org.

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