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Havdalah – San Francisco, CA

February 18th, 2019

Jewish Funder’s Network Havdalah, hosted by OneTable and Birthright Israel (Private Event)

Travis The Tree – A Tu B’Shvat Story

January 21st, 2016

Travis the Tree

By Rabbi Molly G. Kane
More from Rabbi Molly 


“Travis the Tree,” as he was known around Prospect Park, knew the holiday of Tu B’Shevat was coming up, but he didn’t quite know what to expect. He heard some rumors that it was a holiday all about his people…the Trees. He knew there would be a lot of talk about who the trees were and how humans can treat trees better. But what he didn’t know was how the holiday was actually celebrated. Since Travis lived in the park he often saw celebrations. He saw streamers and balloons, picnic baskets filled to the brim, and he saw cake. If only he could eat cake…that yummy looking pastel colored frosting. It seemed to make everyone who ate it so happy. Not that Travis wasn’t happy. He was. And he loved filling himself up with sunshine and rain.  Although, the winter was a tough time for him. It was cold and there wasn’t a lot of sun. Freezing rain and snow didn’t taste as good as the sweet rain of spring and summer. And in the winter he felt so naked! Without any leaves to cover himself up made him feel so vulnerable! And as he was having this thought he realized something HUGE. He was going to be naked for Tu B’shevat! His own holiday and he would be naked! Who celebrates anything naked?! Travis couldn’t understand. Why on earth would there be holiday for trees during the coldest time of the year? During the worst time of the year for trees, when branches are stricken with frostbite and sometimes even brake! Travis was beside himself.

In his despair, he turned to his neighbors and friends…the trees next to him. He told them how unfair he thought it was that Tu B’Shevat was in January. And shouldn’t they protest? Shouldn’t they tell the humans who celebrated them that they should wait and do it in the spring or summer when everything was in bloom?

While Travis chatted up his friends, a wise old brown mouse name Elie was listening to their entire conversation. Elie knew every tree in the park. She knew Travis very well even though Travis didn’t know her. She knew this was the first year that Travis was old enough to understand the meaning of Tu B’Shevat. As Elie was thinking about Travis, all of a sudden she heard Travis say, “Well, then forget Tu B’Shevat!” Elie knew she had to intervene. She crawled onto one of Travis’s roots that was above ground and started gnawing at him with her teeth. No response. So she called out to some of her friends. A few more mice showed up and a squirrel.  They all started chomping on Travis. Still no response. Finally a dog ran by and saw all the critters and started howling. Travis looked down and he started to shake his branches and said, “Hey, hey! Whatcha doin down there?!” Elie quickly crawled up the trunk of Travis’s tree and said,

“I overheard you say, ‘forget Tu B’shevat’ and then that made me think that I could just start to eat up your roots.”

“What?” Travis said in a confused voice.

And then Elie explained that Tu B’Shevat is not about having beautiful green leaves to show off to the whole world. It’s about having strong roots. It’s about being planted into the earth. At first Travis, didn’t fully understand, but as Elie kept talking and telling him stories of the trees in the Land of Israel and how at this time of the year they start to show new buds and also about how when you plant things in the ground now in the winter, they bloom in the spring. And then of course she reminded him: in winter time, tree’s roots grow the most. That’s when Travis finally got it. Tu B’Shevat was now, because it’s a time of sprouting and expanding. And birthdays are all about celebrating growth! It’s also a time of planting for the future and celebrating the ability to grow things. Travis thought about how he used to be a sapling and now he has grown and the cycle of the seasons allow him to get bigger and stronger every year. This felt miraculous to Travis and totally worth celebrating. Travis, looked at Elie and said, “I just have one more question.”

Elie said, “Sure, what is it?”

And Travis said, “Now that I understand Tu B’Shevat, can I have a piece of cake?”


The End



Create Your Own Tu B’Shvat Seder

January 1st, 2016

Tu Bshvat SederIf you’ve never participated in a seder for Tu B’Shvat, you’re missing out! I want to give you the tools to host your own this year. Modeled after the Passover seder, it can be a very beautiful experience full of delicious fruits and nuts, great discussion, music, and a chance to explore your spiritual connections to the rest of creation.


The preparation itself is a wonderful way to get in touch. So while you choose the fruits, wash and divide them up, be sure to pay close attention to the feel, smell, sight, and taste of each one.

Each place setting should include a plate, fork or toothpicks for tasting, 2 wine cups, napkin, and a small flower pot or paper cup for planting. This is a great time to decorate your table with fresh flowers.

THE SEDER PLATESclick here for Tu b’Shvat Seder coloring page

Every seder will lead to a unique discussion about the symbolic explanations for these fruits. Go to town with it, there are infinite ways to look at it.

Choose five from each of the different lists:

1st Plate. Fruits with an inedible shell. The shell conceals what is inside and also protects it. These fruits remind us of our own personalities, often hardened on the outside. It also reminds us of our connection and reliance on a world enveloped by materialism.
Tangerine Grapefruit Kiwi
Walnut Pomegranate Pistachio
Coconut Peanut Almond Orange

2nd Plate. Fruits with an inedible pit or seed. Deep inside us is where we find our truest self, this is about getting in touch with and honoring the still small voice inside us.
Peach Avocado Olive
Apricot Plum Date Cherry

3rd Plate. Fruits which are edible inside and out. Is it possible to be at one with ourselves and with the world around us at the same time? Celebrate a way of living with no barriers, no holding back, and fully living an awesome life.
Grape Fig Apple Strawberry Raisin Cranberry Pear Carob

Invite children to make tu b'shvat seder plate.jpg


Invite your students to design their own seder plates! Delicious instillation art!



4th Plate. Instead of fruit, the 4th plate contains different seed packets for planting. We take action to make the world a better place. Think about how seeds hold the potential for new life, rebirth, hope, and change.
Herbs (Parsley is a fun choice in preparation for Passover a few months away)
Vegetables, Flowers and Be sure to have a pitcher of water nearby so that you can water your seeds after planting.

click here for Shivat haMinim coloring page


Here are my four favorite questions that draw the connection between people and nature. Look how much we can learn about ourselves through an exploration of fruit!  Feel free to make up your own questions.

First I like to ask:  How many colors do you see around the table?  Take a long look and really count.
Then I like to ask: Can you tell what makes each of the three fruit plates special and distinct?

1.  Let’s look at the plate filled with oranges, bananas, nuts… What makes this plate special? These are fruits with a hard shell which we cannot eat and a soft inside which we can eat.  What does this hard outer shell do for the fruit? What does it mean to be hard on the outside and soft on the inside? Do you know anyone who fits this description? Do you fit this description? Do you have a hard outer shell?  Are there particular times when you have a hard outer shell or thick skin?

2.  Let’s look at the plate filled with stone fruits, dates, olives… What makes this plate special? These are fruits with a soft and delicious outside and a very, very hard pit on the inside. What does that pit do for the fruit? Might we have a pit, or something like it, inside us? What could that be? How is it both a source of life and an impenetrable inner pit? What does it mean to be soft on the outside and hard on the inside? Do you know anyone who fits this description? Do you fit this description? Are there particular times when this is the case?

3.  Let’s look at the plate filled with figs, berries, grapes…What makes this plate special? These fruits are edible both on the outside and the inside.  What does it mean to be accessible on the outside and the inside at the same time? Do you know anyone who fits this description? Do you fit this description? Maybe we are like each of these plates of fruit at different times.  Does one plate represent you more than another?
Did you know you had so much in common with fruit?

4.  The fourth plate is in our hands.  Why is it so important for us to plant seeds?  How can we people partner with the natural cycles of creation?  What other kinds of seeds do you plant every day? What are your Tu B’Shvat New Year’s resolutions?  If you cannot plant seeds at this Seder, consider doing an art project that uses hand or finger prints to illustrate this connection.
fingerprint tree art

upcycled cardboard handprint tree art

Other great questions to ask:

What are the many gifts we receive from trees every day?
Why do we have a New Year holiday just to honor trees?
What are your Tu B’Shvat New Year resolutions?
Why is the Torah called Eitz Chayim, Tree of Life?


The different colors of white and red grape juice represent the changing seasons:

1st Cup. This one is just the white grape juice. It represents winter, when nature is asleep. The earth can be snow-covered, taking a rest from blooming and blossoming.
2nd Cup. This one is white juice with a little red mixed in. It represents the spring approaching and the colors of the season changing as the snow melts and flowers begin to show themselves.
3rd Cup. This is mostly red with a little white mixed in. It reminds us of summertime, and flowers in full bloom.
4th Cup. This one is all red. It represents the rich and dark fall autumn colors Leaves are changing, crops are growing, and the trees are filled with blossoms.


Now you’ve got all of the tools, just add some friends and family who enjoy each other’s company and who like to eat and talk.

Make a blessing over the 1st cup of juice: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam borei p’ri hagafen (Thank you to the Source of Life for creating the fruit of the vine).  Follow this up with a short discussion of the meaning behind the color of the juice and the season it represents.

Pass around the 1st plate of fruit. Make sure everyone takes a good look, feel and smell of the fruit before making a blessing over the fruit: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam borei p’ri ha-etz (Thank you to the Rule of the Universe that creates the fruit of the tree).  Enjoy the rest of the plate of fruit along with a rich discussion of the 1st question.

Follow this with round two and so on all the way through the fourth of everything. Instead of eating fruit for the fourth seder plate, take this opportunity to plant seeds. Why plant? Discuss.

What questions do you ask at your Tu B’Shvat Seder?

Growing Up Green with ShirLaLa

January 1st, 2016

Click on the screen below to start growing up green with ShirLaLa

Little People Can Make a Big Difference – a Tu B’Shvat Top Ten

January 1st, 2016

Little People Can Make a Big Difference

Little People Can Make a Big Difference!!
(click on the picture or link above to open this PDF)

The earth gives us many gifts, fresh air, spectacular colors, yummy tastes, and natural wonders, and it’s important that we appreciate these gifts by growing up green. There are lots of ways to grow up green.  Simply understanding where things come from makes us a little bit greener. Did you know the water that comes out of your kitchen sink probably comes from a river or lake?  Even the iPods we listen to are made from metals found deep in the earth.  Did you know that electricity comes from many places, from the coal found in mountains, from the strong sun above and even from the wind that blows through the trees? Did you flip a light switch today? Well, if you did, you received the gift of electricity from our planet. It’s up to each one of us to take care of the earth so that we can keep enjoying her gifts!

Here are ten ways a green kid can become a little bit greener: 

  1. Big kids save little animals. If you save the little animals, even the littlest ants, bees and caterpillars, you can save an entire eco-system.
  2. Start a collection of colors, sounds, smells and textures.  You’ll find them in the sky, in the park, on the beach, in photographs of butterflies, volcanoes, stars and in your backyard.
  3. Plant an edible garden. You can plant a vegetable garden inside or outside; eating the vegetables is good for you and the garden is good for the air and the dirt.
  4. Invent a magical machine to clean the air.  (Thank you!)
  5. Meet your neighbors.  Your neighbors are not only down the street but all over the world!  Each one of us can play an important part in taking care of our planet.
  6. Smile at flowers and say Hi!  “Hi Rose, Hi Lilly, Hi Violet, Hydrangea!”  They love to be noticed.
  7. Say thank you.  We receive nature’s gifts from every corner of the earth.  What’s the best way to say thank you?
  8. Decorate your recycling bins.  Make pictures and lists that explain exactly what can be recycled so that everyone knows were to put things.
  9. Share.  When you get new toys, books and clothes, where do the old ones go?  Hopefully not into the ground with the rest of our trash.  You can share these things with other kids!
  10.  Love your nature because nature loves you. 

Tu B’Shvat: Happy Birthday Dear Treeeees

January 1st, 2016

happy birthday dear treesThe Origins of Tu B’Shvat

Happy Tu B’Shvat! This is the New Year of the trees, the birthday of the Trees, Jewish Earth Day, Eco-Jew Holiday, basically a time to honor all things growing and nourishing.

Once upon a time this date “T U b’Shvat” – the 15th of the Hebrew month Shvat –   was more about agricultural taxation.  Biblical law carefully protected a tree from being harvested before it was ready. Tu B’Shvat calculated the age of the trees and marked the yearly date that a tree’s produce could be harvested. Historians tell the story of a Springtime folk festival in Israel when the Priests would take one tenth of the fruit trees’ crops and send them to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Today we can find a number of verses throughout the Tanach that are linked to Tu B’Shvat and that we use to teach about the Jewish perspective on the environment.

Back in the day

Back in the 16th century that is, a group of Jewish mystics lived in the holy city of Tzfat in Israel. Over many a day and night they discussed and explored how to relate to God. On the holiday of Tu B’Shvat they wondered how best to honor the New Year of the trees. So they created a special Seder for Tu B’Shvat. (You may remember what a Seder is from Passover.) To this day, we gather together around a table with 4 questions, 4 cups of juice, 3 sets of amazing fruits, plenty of music and great discussion.
Invite children to make tu b'shvat seder plate.jpg

D.I.Y. Tu B’Shvat Seder It’s a lot of fun, very tasty and an amazing way to rediscover what we have in common with nature. Click here for more resources.

Did you know that the Torah is called a “Tree of Life?” Why do you think that is? If you have ideas, I’d love to hear about them. Send them along to TreeOfLife@shirlala.com By the way, the Torah is also compared to a fig tree. You can read more about it in the Babylonian Talmud or click here for more information!birthday cake for the trees

Trees celebrate their birthday in the winter? Tu B’Shvat usually falls in the wintertime where we live. But in Israel where the holiday was invented, it’s springtime! And we all know what happens in the spring. Blossoms and new leaves and new crops. So we celebrate an agricultural New Year on this day.

Did you know that the name Tu B’Shvat comes from it’s date on the Hebrew calendar? Gematria is a neat system that gives each of the letters of the alef-bet a numerical value. Can you guess what the TU in Tu B’Shvat stands for?

Story: Ask The Land!

January 1st, 2016

Chasidic story, Adapted by Shira Kline

©ShirLaLa 2007

Two farmers lived side by side for many generations. They had been neighbors for a long time but they weren’t very friendly with each other. Why is that you ask? Because once upon a time they had an argument about a certain olive tree on the top of a hill.

“This olive tree is mine!” said one of the farmers, “because this land belongs to me!”

“No! No! NO!” shouted the other farmer. “This hill has always belonged to my family, so the olive tree is mine!”

“Mine!” growled one farmer as he grabbed the trunk of the tree.

“Mine!” stomped the other farmer as he grabbed the leaves of the tree.

After many, many years of arguing and being in a bad mood around each other, they decided to settle their difference. And where did they go to do that? To the Rabbi of course! And they agreed to abide by her decision.

The Rabbi listened carefully to one. And then to the other. “So you want to know,” said the Rabbi, “to whom does the land belong?”

“That’s what we want to know!” answered the two farmers.

“Well,” said the Rabbi, “Why don’t we ask the land?” The two farmers looked at each and then at the Rabbi with a puzzled look on their faces. They watched as the Rabbi bent down and put her ear to the ground. A moment later, she jumped up and announced, “My friends, the land says that it belongs to neither of you!”

“What?” shouted one farmer. “What?” shouted the other farmer. “Not to either of us?” they shouted together.

“The land says that you belong to it!!” exclaimed the Rabbi with a big smile on her face.

Tu b’Shvat Hebrew Coloring Page – Tu b’Shvat

January 1st, 2016

Make your wishes and keep an eye out for 2 trees embracing on this special holiday!

click here for Tu b’Shvat coloring page

Tu b’Shvat Hebrew Coloring Page – Eitz

January 1st, 2016

Color in the trees. Now, go find a tree and give it a hug!

click here for Eitz coloring page

Tu b’Shvat Hebrew Coloring Page – Tu b’Shvat Seder

January 1st, 2016

Enjoy your Tu b’Shvat Seder!

click here for Tu b’Shvat Seder coloring page