Happy Tu Bishvat!

As I write this, it is frosty outside! Until I moved back to New Jersey, I didn’t realize how much of a Californian I had become. My blood has definitely thinned.

Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, begins on Wednesday, January 19th in the evening and continues through Thursday, the 20th. Will we really celebrate this holiday when the trees are bare -- or perhaps dusted with snow? It seems incongruous. Why not celebrate in the fall, when the leaves are so majestic here on the east coast, or wait for the spring, when trees are in bloom?

Of course, our Jewish seasonal calendar is not based on New Jersey or California, but rather on Israel. Tu Bishvat begins when the sap rises in the trees. You cannot see any grand difference – yet. In Israel, the almond trees are beginning to bud, but the full flowering of trees will happen in the spring because of what happens now, when they look “dead.” This holiday teaches a message of hope: just because things don’t look their best now, don’t despair! It also teaches a message of patience: the life of a tree – and of a human – is long. It may take some time for the sweet stuff to rise, but eventually it will. And when it does, the growing edge will bud, open, and flower.

May you notice subtle progressions in nature and in yourself. May your hope warm you this winter, and may your patience carry you all the way to spring.
- Rabbi Debra

Seeking greater meaning in this arboreal event? Be sure to check the Holidays page on the RabbiDebra.com website for Quotations, Meditations, and Bible Commentary on the themes of Tu Bishvat.

In this Tu Bishvat edition:

Synchronicity - an essay from Rabbi Debra

Of and To - a children's poem inspired by the season

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

iTunes Reviews - Participate and share your thoughts

Upcoming Events - Join us!

Thank you

by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Since moving to Teaneck, NJ, I met a family here who suffered a tragedy while in Los Angeles on vacation, and I was able to make several referrals. This shouldn’t really be surprising, and it doesn’t represent any special skill or talent on my part. I spent 20 years in Los Angeles; so I ought to have a few connections. But it was a miracle to the people here in New Jersey that I could be of help so effortlessly and quickly. What are the odds that the new rabbi in town, who can barely get around without a GPS, will just happen to have all the right contacts in a city 3,000 miles away? “It feels as if you were brought to us just when we needed you,” the mother said.

Coincidence, as Albert Einstein said, is God’s way of remaining anonymous. Synchronicity, I say, is God’s grace made evident through right timing.

The Jewish calendar cultivates synchronicity. The Lubavitcher Rebbe went so far as to say that each holiday “brings down” from heaven essential qualities associated with that holiday, so that the time is ripe and opportune for a specific kind of spiritual growth at a certain time of the year. What is true for the holiday cycle is also true for the life cycle. The anniversary of someone’s death is said to bring their spiritual strengths to the fore; on a yahrzeit, the timing is right for us to tap in to those strengths. Synchronicity informs the Torah cycle as well. As the gabbai of Makom Ohr Shalom, Mike Melnick, has often wondered, “Isn’t it amazing that the Torah portion always speaks so perfectly and clearly to whatever else is going on that week?”

This week is a marvel of synchronicity. We anticipate Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, which celebrates nature and its renewal. We read Parashat Beshallach, the final chapter of the exodus story, including the parting of the Sea of Reeds. We celebrate Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song, in honor of the biblical poems by Moses, Miriam, and Deborah, and we remember the Rev. Martin Luther King on his birthday and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on his yahrzeit.

This year, as I contemplate the confluence of events, I take away a message of shefa, abundance. It’s as if the calendar is trying to tell us: “opportunities for inspiration and liberation are raining down on you! If there is ANYTHING you need to be free of, if there is ANYTHING holding you back, if there is ANY WAY in which you want to renew or reinvent yourself: this is the time to let go and declare: ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God, Almighty, free at last.’”

Of and To - a children's poem inspired by the season
by students at the Congregation Bnai Israel Hebrew School, Emerson, NJ

A tree reminds me of an ecosystem;
A tree reminds me to climb trees.

A tree reminds me of Life;
A tree reminds me to relax and look.

A tree reminds me of Creation;
A tree reminds me to eat yummy fruit.

A tree reminds me of biology class and cellular respiration;
A tree reminds me to breathe.

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

What are the odds? . . . Last week I was asked to join a meeting with a colleague and his business partner, and I was able to offer advice I had learned on my last movie project that was exactly the transformative piece of information they needed. I met a woman the other day, an accomplished writer and speaker not unlike Debra, and she was interested in building a website to bring together her community of followers. She didn’t know where to start, and I was able to give her just the advice and referrals she needed to start turning her vision into reality. A guest to our synagogue last night was wondering aloud to a congregant if you could have a NY Jets emblem on a kippah, and that congregant walked over and gently grabbed me by the shoulder so he could show this man my hand-knit NY Jets yarmulke, which I found in Jerusalem last summer. Okay, so that last one may not be of such great import if you live outside the Tri-State area, but, as Debra and I have been settling into life in this “foreign land” of New Jersey, I have been struck by the number of times I have been in just the right place to be of significant service.

I don’t mean to say that such moments did not occur when we lived in Los Angeles, but, having been there for so long, I may have come to take them for granted. Here in my new home, I am more keenly aware of how I fit in, when I am able to contribute, and how synchronistic it is that I show up in the right place at the right time to make a difference. Interestingly, the more I notice and pay attention to these moments of service, the more often they seem to occur.

You have to ask yourself, is this increasing synchronicity just a statistical anomaly - or is coincidence, as Einstein and Debra note (a husband can make such groupings) a glimpse into the mechanics of the universe that God has set up. I can’t be sure, but I am buoyed by the idea that, if we increase our awareness of the service we do, our power to do good actually grows. And like the sap just rising now in the winter trees, we who are aware of our gifts can also be agents of change and growth. If you are looking out, you will see spring coming. That one is a sure bet.

iTunes Reviews - Participate and share your thoughts

For those of you have not yet heard, Debra’s audio teachings are now available on iTunes, where tracks can be purchased individually or as a collection. And we have posted there a few bonus tracks not found on the CD’s. If you own or have listened to the CD’s we would love to have you write a brief review on iTunes.

If you have iTunes on your computer, please go to the iTunes Store and search for "Rabbi Debra Orenstein" or "Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi." You can leave a review of either an album or an individual teaching. Your input will make these teachings more accessible to those browsing the listings. Thank you.

Upcoming Events
 - Join us!

Adult Education: On the first three Tuesday evenings in February, Debra will be teaching an adult education series, open to the public, at Congregation Bnai Israel, 53 Palisade Ave., Emerson, NJ. The title of the course is: Appetizers to A Feast: Ways in to Jewish Spirituality, and more detailed information is available on the Calendar page at RabbiDebra.com.

Also in February, Debra will be contributing a column to the New York Jewish Week newspaper. Be on the lookout for her article.

Looking forward to spring, Debra will be leading a Community Seder on the second night of Passover, Tuesday, April 19th beginning at 6:15 pm at Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, New Jersey. The event is open to the public, and you are invited! Join us. The evening will be an inter-generational, family-friendly event with activities for children, engaging discussion for adults, and music and celebration for all. Contact CBI for details.

Click on the CD's above for more information on audio teachings you can have with you at home or on your way.


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