Sunshine glimmered through the wall-to-wall windows of the dining room at the Regency Assisted Living Center in Glen Cove. The warming light made it feel as if spring was in the air, despite the tiny snow banks gradually melting on the sidewalk.
Inside, a group of residents gathered at a table for Tu B’Shevat services, led by Cantor Gustavo Gitlin of Congregation Tifereth Israel. The holiday, the cantor explained, is one of the many “new years” observed in the Jewish faith. The service was open to all denominations.
Tu B’Shevat translates to the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat and recognizes and acknowledges the importance of trees. One resident heartily referred to it as “Jewish Arbor Day.”
The holiday marks the beginning of a new harvest season, and is celebrated by eating shiv’at haminim, or the seven grains and fruits associated with the land of Israel.
“In the Mishnah, which was written 2,000 years ago, the rabbis wanted to feature the fruits and grains from the land of Israel, especially the ones mentioned in the Torah,” Gitlin said. “In Israel this time of year, the almond tree is in bloom, and it represents that spring is coming, which means life is coming.”
Regency residents followed along with the cantor as he recited prayers and readings for the service. He presented a seder plate, which featured Tu B’Shevat’s celebrated offerings, including wheat crackers, grapes, figs, pomegranate seeds, olives and dates.
The table was lined with green balloon arrangements to resemble trees, and the balloons were affixed with leaves, which were crafted by residents.
The service followed a tasting procession of four different colored wines, each glass symbolizing a phase of the harvest season. The first cup of white wine represents a barren field in winter. For the second cup, two drops of red wine were mixed into a glass of white, which symbolizes farmers planting “seeds of hope” in the land to produce harvests. The third cup was an equal mix of red and white wine, which represents an equal partnership between people to depend on one another. The last cup, filled to the brim with rich, red wine, symbolizes the fullness of life, and the height of the harvest season.
While the residents enjoyed the “fruits and grains,” Gitlin asked them to share their hopes with one another. He explained that although Tu B’Shevat is a celebration of the coming of spring in the midst of winter, it is also an opportunity for people to reflect on their own “seeds of hope,” or random acts of kindness, and how they can change the world. “It doesn’t matter how small the seed is,” Gitlin said, “its accomplishments can still be recognized.”
Traditionally, Jews also plant trees in recognition of Tu B’Shevat. Through donations of its residents, the Regency was able to plant four trees in Israel to celebrate the holiday.
“Hope, like trees, starts out in a little package, and blossoms if nurtured, just like people,” Gitlin said.