By Chana Mizrahi
Some of my best early childhood memories are of Tu B’Shevat—the Jewish new year for trees—which is coming up on February 6th. Many observe it just by eating carob and/or other fruits, but my family follows the Syrian Jewish custom of making a whole Tu B’Shevat Seder.
We would decorate our whole dining room in beautiful colors, bring out all our tables and chairs (when I was a young child, we’d always have a crowd for Tu B’Shevat!), and serve every kind of fruit we could find. There would have to be a new seasonal fruit so we could say the special shehechiyanu blessing, but besides that, we’d make sure there was as much variety as we could possibly manage, all beautifully arranged on platters, covering the table.
We didn’t just serve fruit, but everything would have fruit in it: there could be orange chicken, chicken with olives, lamb with quince, rice pilaf with raisins and nuts, bulgur wheat pudding with pomegranate seeds and currants, beautiful delicious salads filled with fruits and nuts, homemade candied apricots studded with pistachios, and so much more. We’d make sure to have each of the different categories of fruits: those with a hard inedible exterior and a soft edible interior, such as oranges and nuts; those with a soft exterior and a hard pit inside, such as apricots, olives, and dates; and those that are eaten whole, such as berries and grapes. We would also make sure to include the seven species associated with the Holy Land of Israel, according to the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
It was much less formal and much more fun than a Pesach seder, and would always feel like a party. It was a time of year I’d always look forward to!
As an adult, I did not continue this tradition at first.
My husband’s family doesn’t share this custom, and I wasn’t going to bother if I seemed to be the only one who really cared. Besides, we travel frequently, so we were not even home to do anything on Tu B’Shevat for those first couple of years. One time we went to someone else’s Tu B’Shevat seder; otherwise we’d buy a few fruits for that day, and that was that.
A couple years ago, however, I decided I wanted to revive this beautiful tradition—we were home!—and my husband was on board with it. I bought all the exotic fruits I could find—34 different varieties, if I recall correctly—planned a delicious fruity menu, and invited some friends over. Unfortunately they had to cancel at the last minute so it ended up being just the two of us, but we still went ahead and had our fruity dinner and Tu B’Shevat seder, which we enjoyed very much!
Last year my husband was deployed overseas during Tu B’Shevat, so I made him a lovely dried fruits and nuts platter and shipped it to him. It wasn’t the same of course, but we still managed to enjoy the holiday together on a video call, and I hope we’ll have an actual Tu B’Shevat seder this year with family and friends. Maybe we will even make it a bit of an event with the local members of our military Jewish community. It’s not one of those major holidays that we’re obligated to observe, but it’s such a fun, delicious, beautiful one that I highly recommend doing so anyway!
Whether you’re only having a piece of a new fruit, making a fruity party, or doing a whole seder, I wish you and yours a very happy Tu B’Shevat!
This article was originally published in the Chanukah 2022 issue of the Jewish-American Warrior.