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Tu b’Shvat Hebrew Coloring Page – Shivat haMinim 7 special foods

January 1st, 2016

Check out these seven special foods found in Israel. How many have you tried this year?

click here for Shivat haMinim coloring page

Tu B’Shvat Birthday Cake

January 1st, 2016
Make a Tu B’Shvat Tree Birthday Cake!

Using your favorite cake or cookie dough recipe, spread the batter onto a 11 X 14 cookie sheet (one without sides so that the cookie can be slipped off onto a board).

After baking, while the dough is still slightly warm…

Cut the basic shape of a tree out of the cake (whoever works on this project gets to eat the scraps).  Begin at the top by cutting around the corners to make a round treetop.  Create the trunk by cutting into both sides to make a narrow tree trunk shape. *Keep it simple so that it’s still easy to spread the frosting.


Continue decorating while the dough is still slightly warm.  The the candies will stick to the cookie, but not be absorbed into the dough. It’s all great fun and your imagination can run wild.

- To make the bark of the tree, spread dark brown chocolate icing over the entire cake.  Another idea for the bark is to use chocolate chips.  Pack them tightly onto the “trunk” and make branches as well.
- Mix together cream cheese, powdered sugar and a few drops of green food coloring to make green icing.   Pipe it on with a decorating bag or squeeze it out of the cut-off edge of a ziplock bag, to make leaves and grass. (of course you can also just dollop it on with a spoon too!)
- Use M&Ms and other colorful candies  for fruits and flowers.
-You can also use flower or butterfuly cookie cutters on the left-over baked dough, decorated them as well and place them around the tree.

Basically, you’re making a cookie painting.  Send pictures!!

Bal Tashchit: The Three Rs

January 1st, 2016

To till and to tend: one of the first mitzvot given to us by God in the Torah. Truly, we are the caretakers of this earth and of all the living things. (Including each other! but that’s for another day…) Bal Tashchit is the mitzvah that says, Do Not Destroy/Waste. It comes up in the Torah, Deuteronomy 20:19, having to do with warfare. Even in the heat of battle, we are not permitted to cut down trees and destroy fields for the sake of our advancement and/or the downfall of our enemies. Our Rabbis taught us that “when a tree is cut down, it is as if it’s pain resounds throughout the world.”

There is a wonderful midrash that tells of God explaining this all to Adam on a lovely walk through the Garden of Eden. God says, “I created all My beautiful and glorious works for your sake. Take heed not to corrupt and destroy My world. For if you destroy it, there is no one to make it right after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) Sound familiar?

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. These are three different ways of saying bal tashchit. Every day we’re learning more and more about the environment and our role in it. Jewish teachers and texts have been talking about it since the very beginning. We are taught that righteousness includes the steps we take to actively care for our world, not to mention our appreciation for the extraordinary beauty offered to us in every direction. I like the way Rabbi Abraham ben Moses (1186-1237) puts it:

“In order to serve God, one needs access to the enjoyment of the the beauties of nature, such as the contemplation of flower-decorated meadows, majestic mountains, flowing rivers… For all these are essential to the spiritual development of even the holiest people.”

So this year on Tu B’Shvat, not only do I want you to go out and hug a tree, but I want you to take a serious look at the ways you can reduce your waste on a daily basis.

Ideas for Bal Tashchit? Here are a few of mine:

  • Bring your own shopping bags to the grocery store with you. Enough with the plastic grocery bags!
  • Reuse, reuse, and reuse again those plastic bags you have stuffed in every corner of the kitchen.
  • Really remember to turn of the lights when you leave the room and Really remember to shut off the water while brushing your teeth, washing your face, and washing dishes.
  • Use dishtowels and cloth napkins instead of paper
  • Reuse your computer paper. Keep a stack of paper you’ve only used on one side and save it for next time. You can even use the backs of all that junk mail paper you receive every day.

I can’t wait to hear about your families’ green ways! Please send them in to green@shirlala.com or leave them as a comment. I’ll continue to update the list on a special page.

Tu B’Shvat Recipes

January 1st, 2016

From, “Taste of Tradition”  by Ruth Sirkis

Ruth, considered to be ‘the Julia Child of Israel” tells us, Tu B’Shvat is all about “going on a nature kick.” In Israel, “meadows, orchards and vineyards begin to blossom.” So, “foods of the holiday are related to nature and trees as well. It is traditional to serve fruits. Since few are available fresh at this time of year, dried varieties are most often used.”

Almond-Prune Sweets

40 medium size pitted prunes (you can also use dried apricots)
8 oz apricot jam (or any other kind of jam)
20 blanched almonds
20 small paper cups

1. Place a prune in each cup. Spread with jam.

2. Top with another prune. Press together with your fingers. Spread top prune with more jam and tuck an almond on top.

Date-fig-walnut treats

4 oz pitted dates
4 oz figs
2 tblsp breadcrumbs
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp brandy (optional)
4 oz chopped walnuts
20 small cups

1. Remove fig stems. Grind figs and dates together in a food processor. Add one tablespoon of bread crumbs. Put into medium bowl.

2. Add lemon juice and brandy. Mix well with wooden spoon. Add remaining breadcrumbs and blend until a smooth dough forms.

3. Form ropes the thickness of a finger. Cut into 2 inch strips. Spread chopped walnuts on a plate and press each “finger” into them. Place in cups walnut side up.


“Taste of Tradition” is available in the USA via Amazon and also via many Jewish book stores.  Ruth has another book in English “Popular Foods From Israel”, which covers typical Israeli dishes.


Another suggestion from my mom, Barbara Kline

1. Fill dried apricots with softened cream cheese and top with a few dried cranberries or cherries.  You can do the same with dates.

From, “Jewish Holiday Kitchen” by Joan Nathan

Poached Fruit with Wine

6 oz pitted prunes
6 oz dried figs
½ C pecan halves
1 ½ C dry red wine
¼ C sweet red wine or port
¼ C brown sugar or to taste
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
grated peel of 1 lemon
½ sliced orange
1 handful of juniper berries

1. Place prunes, figs, and pecan halves in saucepan, adding enough wine to cover ¼ of the way up the fruits and nuts.

2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered over low heat for about 20 minutes.

3. Serve with whipped cream. It’s all very rich so serve small portions.

She also makes a salad with

1 peeled and sliced orange in round pieces
1 avocado sliced
1 endive separated
1 bunch of watercress
½ head romaine lettuce
2 pitted dates slivered small
seeds of ½ pomegranate or ¼ C cranberries

1. Combine all in bowl.

2. 15 minutes before serving, mix in the following salad dressing (15 minutes is in honor of the 15 kinds of fruits and nuts eaten on the 15th of Shvat).


2 tblsp basalmic vinegar
1 clove garlic crushed
dash of sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Fresh ground pepper to tste
5 tablespoons olive oil

1. Combine all ingredients except olive oil.

2. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking until well blended.

A Tree’s New Year Resolution

January 1st, 2016

by Shlomo Yaffe
used with permission

Tu B’Shvat –the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat — is known as the “New Year for Trees.” Naturally this would be a time for trees to engage in soul-searching the way people do on Rosh Hashanah. Here is a tree’s New Year Checklist:

  • Did I shelter the seedlings that live in my shade –so they will grow up to be a next generation like myself?
  • Did I grow towards the sun as a tree should, reaching up higher and higher towards that which I can never grasp, but which nurtures me all the same the more I strive towards it?
  • Did I make sure my roots remain firmly planted in the soil that nurtures them, and did I drop my leaves there in the fall to give back life to that which sustains me?
  • Did I ensure that my fruit were sweet and nourished all that came to enjoy them? Did everyone walk away from me with a smile?
  • Did I bend gently in the wind, accepting what G-d sends but never breaking or giving up hope?
  • Did I grow in strength and wisdom with each new ring this year?

Come to think of it, not a bad checklist for us humans either!

Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe is the spiritual leader of Congregation Agudas Achim of West Hartford, Connecticut.

Resources on the Environment and for Tu B’Shvat

January 1st, 2016

 www.Rockinoutgreen.com  www.rockinoutgreen - Green Songs for Kidshas several resource pages for both children and adults!


Check out COEJL’s page on Tu B’Shvat packed with learning about the environment and it’s connection to Judaism. You’ll also find a beautiful Tu B’Shvat Seder here.
Shalom Cener banner
Read Tu B’Shvat articles at the Shalom Center by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a master teacher, author, and political activist.


Babaganewz’s Tu B’Shvat Central, my favorite place online for children’s activities and family learning!

The Torah compared to a Fig Tree

January 1st, 2016

Why is the Torah compared to a fig tree? The fruit of most trees – the olive tree, the vine, and the palm tree – is collected all at once, while that of the fig tree is collected a bit at a time. So, too, regarding the Torah. Today a person learns a little, and tomorrow she shall learn much, for the Torah cannot be learned in a single year or two.
(Babylonian Talmud 53b)

Oh, and did you know that the Torah is compared to a fig, too!
Because every fruit has in it something inedible: dates have pits, grapes have seeds, pomegranates have skin. But every part of the fig is good to eat.
(Yalkut Shimoni Joshua 1)

What does the TU in Tu B’Shvat stand for?

January 1st, 2016

Using Gematria, the Hebrew T U is made up of a Tet, which has the numerical value of 9 and Vav which has the value of 6. Together the two letters equal 15. Tu B’Shvat occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month, Shvat. Shvat is the 11th month of the Hebrew calendar usually coinciding with January/February.

How can I #BeTheShamash ?

December 1st, 2015

let-your-light-shine, image by artist Michelle Verbeeck



The Chanukah menorah has eight branches of light plus one additional branch, called the Shamash שמש.  The Shamash candle sits apart from the others and has one very important job.

click here for Shamash Coloring Page



It’s job is to light the other candles.  It is the helper candle or the starter.  Without it, we would have no light in the dark winter season of Chanukah.

What can you do to #BeTheShamash ?

A few years ago, over 10,000 people participated in my #BeTheShamash campaign, pouring light into cracks and crevices up and down this world. (what’s a Shamash?) This year, let’s continue the journey together. We are collecting *sparks*: art projects, stories, images, quotes, teachings, your kind of magic to bring light into the world.

Email Shira@ShirLaLa.com with the subject line #BeTheShamash to add to the collection.  I will post them on Blog Sameach and also share them throughout Chanukah!




The Very First Night Light

November 27th, 2015

Once upon a time at the very, very beginning, when the seasons changed for the very, very first time,  everything in creation paid very close attention.

It was just round this time of year when Bear noticed that the Sun’s strong beam went down earlier than usual.  ”It’s a little colder today,” said Bear to Elephant.

“Yes it is,” agreed Elephant, “We should sit a little closer to each other today so that we stay warm!”

And that night Elephant sat a little closer to Bear.  They shared a hot cocoa and there was something special about its chocolatey goodness.

The next eve Elephant remarked, “Look how Sun is going down earlier and earlier!” Then, Tree pointed out that “the nights are get darker and darker” and Waterfall jumped in to say, “and longer and longer.”

“I know! Let’s light a candle tonight!” said Tiger excitedly.   Monkey agreed and she ran to get their favorite colorful candle which they lit together.

That night they sat together in warmth and a little candle light. They shared another hot cocoa and mmmm, if it wasn’t just a little more delicious when they shared it together.

The next night, Sun went down even earlier and it soon became even darker. “Let’s light two candles tonight!” suggested Chicken, and that night they huddled close with the light of two candles. And of course, hot cocoa. With extra marshmallows which were extra delicious.

The next night arrived even earlier and so they lit a third candle.  And every night following, they added one more candle to brighten up the very long and dark wintery nights.  On the eighth night, the darkest yet, they gathered for hugs and hot cocoa, marshmallows and maybe even a touch of whipped cream.  By the nightlight of their candles, they told their favorite stories. They sang their favorite songs. They played night time hide and seek until it was finally time for bed.  And they slept easily and dreamt golden dreams all through the longest night of the year.

The very next evening, Mountain couldn’t help but notice that the sun lingered just a bit before the nighttime Stars began their twinkle dance. “Perhaps tonight, we need only seven candles,” suggested Mountain. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea” agreed Cricket.  And that night they lit only seven.  The next evening, the sun dazzled in the sky for even longer and they lit only 6 candles.  As the season changed and the days grew longer once again Elephant, Tiger, Monkey, Rabbit, Chicken, Cricket and all of their friends lit fewer and fewer candles.

And to this day, every winter when the days grow short and the nights long, we shine our Night Light to illuminate the darkness.

-based on a winter solstice folk story
Adaptation by Shira Kline (c) ShirLaLa 2013

image from “NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day”