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Beth Israel Congregation

Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

January/February 2008
Tevet/Shevat/Adar I 5768

Tu Bishvat
News from the Hebrew School
Tu B'Shvat Community Seder
Friday Night Kumsitz
Spinach Balls
Synagogue Newsletter Editor

NOTE: It is our policy that no personal telephone numbers, email addresses or mailing addresses be contained in the web version of our newsletter. If you need to get in touch with one of our members please email us at

Tu Bishvat - Obligation or Celebration?

by Daniel Leeman

Tu Bishvat is a nature lovers holiday. It was popularized by the Sefardic Kabbalists in Tzfat, in northern Israel, when they created the Tu Bishvat seder, a festive meal patterned after the Passover ritual. Tu Bishvat is also known as Jewish Arbor Day, A Festival of Trees.

Nowadays, in Israel, school is canceled on Tu Bishvat so students can go out and participate in the Jewish National Fund initiative to plant trees. The Zionist agricultural movement held at its core an obligation to reestablish the Promised Land agriculturally, as the modern State of Israel. With this notion they embraced and strengthened the Tu Bishvat festival as an opportunity to reforest the land after 500 years of Turkish over-grazing. The Turkish nomadic herders turned a land flowing with milk and honey (which it was during biblical times) into a desert landscape. Israelis embrace this holiday to promote the worthy goal of making the "desert bloom."

Despite all these modern factors that are commonly considered as the history and features of the holiday, Tu Bishvat has its origins in the bible.

According to Hillel, the early Tanaitic Rabbi, the holiday became the New Year for trees because by the fifteenth of Shvat, most of the rains in Israel had passed. There needed to be an annual agricultural cycle date (almost like a fiscal date) to determine the amounts one must give to fulfill the mitzvah of Maaser. This was the tithe, or gift of fruit for the Levites, who had no land and ministered to the Temple. So Tu Bishvat was established and was based on the timing of the annual "fruit tithe" requirement.

Also, the Holiday was established to resolve the need to create a cycle date for the fulfillment of "Orlah," a biblical prohibition on the consumption of the first three years of new fruit growth from a freshly planted tree. The Torah prescribes that it is only in the fourth year of fruit growth, that one could use or benefit from this early produce of newly planted fruit bearing trees. Tu Bishvat is considered the annual renewal date, Rosh Hashanah La'Ilanot V'Perot. A new year for trees and fruit, as it was once known.

Isn't it fascinating that all the sensitivity to environmental protection that this beautiful Holiday engenders and that has been popularized today in its celebration has it origin in these two biblical obligations.

One great lesson we can derive from the seeming disconnect between Tu Bishvat rituals and the original biblical injunction, is to understand the purpose of rituals in general. Ritual and ceremony are meant to enhance and beautify our lives. They symbolically amplify the fulfillment of basic obligations. We must never allow the ceremony to cloud the basic premise of the obligations themselves.

So on this holiday, as we ponder with gratitude the great value and beauty of trees and their produce, we must remember one thing. This celebration is meant to increase our awareness about all the benefits trees offer in our lives. This awareness should lead to celebration and gratitude. The purpose of this process, so skillfully designed by our sages, is to spur us on to fulfill our obligations to share our wonderful gifts with others.

Our Tu Bishvat seder celebration, which will include tasting a variety of wonderful fruits and singing songs about trees and nature will take place on Friday evening, January 18th. Please join us. Everyone is welcome.

News from the Hebrew School

by Barbara Leeman

Hanukkah News

In December, besides our students continuing their Hebrew education, our school also had a chance to celebrate Hanukkah together and take a little break to do some holiday crafts and games. The kids designed and decorated their own dreidles. Special thanks to Campbell Clegg who prepared all the materials for this, making it easy for the kids to enjoy. They even played a "high stakes" dreidle game with a spending cap of 10 cents! Everyone had a chance to make his/her own Hanukkah menorah as well.

Special thanks to Deb Hagler whose preparation on this really made it fun for the kids. Hanukkah cookie decorating was led by Marina Singer who baked enough for the whole school to enjoy. Thank you Marina. Deb Hagler, Campbell Clegg and Susan Horowitz prepared Latkes which were yummy. In addition, Jane Martell, Michael Brodsky, and Hannah Leeman helped the kids have fun and enjoy, with dreidle playing and other Hanukkah games.

Our youngsters were also excited to celebrate Hanukkah with our congregation at our community wide Chanukah party on December 9th. Breakfast was perfect, the skits were hilarious, and the music and singing led by Marie Pressman and Cantor Daniel was very beautiful and festive. What more could someone ask for? A huge thank you to Marilyn for all her coordination to make this day special for everyone.

Classroom News

During December, Alina's Gimmel class (3rd grade) gave a special presentation on the Mezuzah. They described the prayer, the words in it, and passed around a mezuzah, showing the Shema contained within it. Each student demonstrated their knowledge of the prayer by sharing a brief lesson with the whole school.

Our Vav and Heh classes, had a special lesson on the Bimah where each student had a chance to practice the Torah blessings in front of a real Torah. Cantor Daniel read from the Torah and showed each student some of the customary behavior and etiquette when receiving an aliyah. Thanks so much to Morah Alina for providing this wonderful opportunity for our eldest group of students to practice what they have learned, and to have more confidence on the Bimah during a Torah service.

Class Shabbats

Our Vav and Heh class Shabbat is scheduled for Februarys 8th. The students who are in these classes are Quin Boyd, William Connelly, Shira Gersh, Jacob Hagler, Julian Ireland, and Sophie Sreden. Each service begins at 7:00 pm. The class gathers earlier at 6:00 pm for a meal, where we have a chance to sing zmirot (Shabbat melodies) and learn some new blessings. We encourage members of our congregation and greater community to attend these special services. Your attendance and support inspires our students to continue their effort towards a quality Jewish education. Please mark your calendars.

Tot Shabbat Services Continue

This year we have scheduled five Tot Shabbat services throughout the year. We are very excited about keeping this as a regular option for families with very small kids. The last Tot Shabbat, December 7th, was led in the midst of a snow storm, but despite, we had a lively and special service, which everyone treasured. A limited number of prayers were introduced to the kids and everyone had a chance to participate. Some lively singing, and some Hanukkah stories filled the air. Our next Tot Shabbat is scheduled for February 29th. Please let anyone who has small kids know about this special service.

What's coming up?

We are looking forward to our community Tu B'Shevat Seder this year on Friday, January 18th.

For anyone who is interested, our next parent group meeting is at 4:30 pm during Hebrew School on January 9th. This is the best way for anyone interested to see more of what is going on during Hebrew school and to be more involved. We are always looking for new and exciting ideas to incorporate into our Hebrew school program.

Come to the Second Annual Tu B'Shvat Community Seder

by Marilyn Weinberg

On Friday, January 18, come to our second Tu B'Shvat Community Seder! Last year's seder was so enjoyable, we decided to make it an annual event. A potluck dinner begins at the synagogue at 6:00 pm (no meat, but fish is OK). We are supposed to eat fruits and grains grown in Israel. So plan on bringing something containing barley, dates, figs, grapes (or raisins), pomegranates, olives or wheat. Almonds and carob are also good options. We will sing songs and learn more about this Jewish environmental holiday!

Friday Night Kumsitz, a musical evening

by Marilyn Weinberg

On Friday, February 1, at 7:00 pm, we will meet at the Minnie Brown Center instead of the synagogue for a special music program. Our regular Friday night "Kabbalat Shabbat" service helps to get us into the spirit of Shabbat. A Kumsitz is just as it sounds...a night to come and sit and enjoy. Please join us for an evening of music and song to welcome our Shabbat.

Spinach Balls

by Marie Pressman
  • 2 pkgs. chopped frozen spinach
  • 1/2 melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Pepperidge Farm Stuffing (NOT THE CUBED)
  • 1/2 c. parmasean cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

Defrost spinach and squeeze out water. (It works best if you take small handfuls). Mix all the ingredients. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Shape into balls. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350.

WANTED: Synagogue Newsletter Editor

by Anna Boll

The new editor will take over in June 2008 for the July/August issue of the newsletter. Job includes gathering, laying out and editing articles. Must be familiar with desktop publishing and Jewish guilt. This is a two-year position. Editing the newsletter is a great way to stay involved. If you have a new vision for the newsletter, please contact Marilyn.


Many thanks to the following people for their donations to Beth Israel Congregation

Members of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Janice Povich in memory of Lillian Goldstein, mother
  • Janice Povich in memory of Don Povich, husband
  • Rea Turet and Sandy Polster in memory of Sidney Lasher, stepfather
  • Lynn Frank in memory of Esther Friedman, cousin
  • Mort and Evelyn Panish in memory of Alex Mutterperl, stepfather
  • Mort and Evelyn Panish in memory of Fanny Mutterperl, mother
  • Mort and Evelyn Panish in memory of Else Chaim, mother
  • Jerrold Lurie in memory of Zelda Walk, friend
  • Jay and Lenore Friedland in honor of Robert Gersh's retirement
  • Rea Turet and Sandy Polster in honor of Robert Gersh's retirement
  • Jim Raker and Virginia Van Slyke
  • Andrew and Debbie Hagler
  • Monica and Donnie Blatt

Friends of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Leslie Artsis Adams of West Palm Beach, FL
  • Sarah Wood, Brunswick, ME